Happy New Year, everyone!
We spent this holiday season cooking up a storm at home with family visiting and both Mr. K and I being on vacation. It was so nice to have free time to cook and bake, but as my time off wraps up, I thought I’d make one of Mr. K’s favorites — tonkatsu!
How to Make Tonkatsu
All you need for a great meal when making tonkatsu is the meat, flour, a few eggs, good panko breadcrumbs, rice, along with something tangy on the side. Never, ever make tonkatsu with Italian breadcrumbs or any other kind of breadcrumbs except panko breadcrumbs–please!
Typically, tonkatsu is served with a cabbage slaw of sorts with a tangy ketchup/mayonnaise dressing (or Thousand Island dressing of some sort) as shown below, but I didn’t have any cabbage on hand today. I did, however, have a couple of jars of pickled red onions just hanging out in the fridge, so along with some banchan, I had everything I needed to make one fine dinner.
I think almost anyone knows how to make tonkatsu; it’s not brain surgery. But almost everyone makes it with a whole loin or a thicker cut of meat as shown in the image above–and nothing’s wrong with that. That was the way I used to make it, too – and it was always delicious.
Until I learned one little tip that I didn’t know beforehand, and that took my regular recipe to new heights.
I can’t take credit for this tip as it’s something I learned from my friend’s husband. About 15 years ago, I went over to their house for dinner and he made the best, best tonkatsu–and one little difference made all of the difference:
The meat is pounded out to thin slivers.
(Thank you, John & Soa!)
Now, over the years, I’ve used various types of meat and so long as you tenderize and thin out the meat as thinly as possible, the outcome is equally wonderful.
If you don’t have a tenderizer mallet — buy one right now because it’s essential for this recipe!
A big plus about making donkatsu (I’m interchanging between tonkatsu and donkatsu because in my Korean mind, this is 100% called donkasseu!) at home is that it’s so, so cheap. As shown, a $4.64 package of boneless pork loin is plenty to feed 4 people with good appetites, each having 2+ pieces. For this tonkatsu recipe, I cooked up 3 pork loins.
These loins weren’t thick or glorious in any fashion, just plain and boneless. For each individual piece of this thickness, I’m slicing into 2 pieces, which basically makes one person’s serving. You can use other cuts of pork chops, too, BUT — why would you do that to a glorious center-cut pork chop? (Answer: you wouldn’t. You shouldn’t.)
Note, also, that I’ve brought out my cheap cutting board and laid two towels under it. What I’m about to do is loud and violent, so this measure helps my countertop as well as the ears of my upstairs and downstairs neighbors for the 10+ minutes it takes to prepare the three pork loins.
Since boneless pork loins are so lean, I don’t trim any fat unless really excessive. (None of these are excessive.) Here, I’ve sliced that one piece to make two pieces. You want to keep them as even as you are able to, but it’s not the end of the world if they’re uneven–you’ll just be pounding the thicker one for a lot longer.
Now you take your tenderizer and go to town on the meat.
On the left is the original halved slice of pork loin, and on the right is the final result.
Using this mallet is a work of art, haha. Seriously, though, when making tonkatsu, you’ll find that the more often you make this and practice your pounding abilities, it’ll get easier each time.
I use the jagged side to first “break” the meat on both sides. That side alone will do not much at all initially in terms of making a thinner and bigger piece. Once both sides have been heavily worked with the toothed side, take the flat side of the mallet and “hit” the meat — but as you can down on the meat, you want to force it a little outwards. That is what will thin the meat.
If you have any pieces of fat or meat falling away from the bulk of the slice, just fold it in and pound it down, moving your mallet outwards as you land.
Like I said, a work of art, but if you simply pound down, you will thin it out. Just be careful that you’re not creating 10 chunks out of one slice all falling apart!
This is a terrible shot where I am attempting to show you how thin it is, ideally, except it’s folded over and doesn’t look all that thin. (Oh, the woes of prepping and taking photos on your own!) In any case, you can see that while it’s not paper thin, it’s considerably thinner than where it started. It needs to be thin enough that when you pick it up, you’re careful because it might rip.
At this step, you want to make sure you season the slices. The only two parts I season for tonkatsu are the meat itself, and heavily for the egg batter, coming up below.
If you like tonkatsu sauce on your tonkatsu, keep that in mind when seasoning because that will add additional salt to each bite.
For every two slices, I use one whole egg, so in this case, I’ve mixed up three eggs, added one teaspoon of salt, and a teaspoon of garlic powder into the egg mix.
On the left is just King Arthur Unbleached Flour and Japanese panko breadcrumbs — both available on Amazon if you don’t have any. I usually the Shirakiku brand I’ve linked here and have a few bags on hand, but I had an opened bag of the IFC brand I got at the Korean market. I can discern no difference the two; just get Japanese breadcrumbs. Also, make sure it’s not seasoned!
I like to deep-fry tonkatsu with the top and bottom of each cutlet cooking together, though I was really miserly with the oil tonight, and too lazy to add more and wait for it to heat back up, or to change pots to a narrower one.
As far as temperature goes, I’ll heat the oil on high for a couple of minutes, and then turn down to medium on this wretched electric stove (GOD, I hate electric stoves…). The ideal temperature is around 360-370 degrees to start; if it’s too much cooler than that, the tonkatsu won’t be as crispy (or downright soggy if totally insufficiently hot), and any hotter than that and you’ll burn the breadcrumbs. The meat is so thin that it’ll cook nonetheless, but it just won’t be nice to look at and will taste…well, burnt.
To test the oil, sprinkle a single breadcrumb into the oil and see if it starts sizzling immediately or sinking to the bottom like it’s drowning. If it’s sizzling, also see if it’s burning to a crisp, which means the oil is TOO hot, or you can just use a clip-on thermometer if you have one.
It’s crucial that you prep your working area as the oil is heating. The order you’ll be going in is flour, egg, breadcrumbs, into the oil, and out of the oil using tongs.
As I do with anything deep-fried, I have a strainer lined with paper towel to hold the tonkatsu and absorb excess oil while I cook all of the meat. Have it close by to make the trip from the oil to the strainer short, but — needless to say, I hope — not so close that you set the thing on fire, which my friend claimed happened to her when I gave her my recipe. Uh, fire, paper, and oil means — keep the two separate. I have this over on another burner.
Timing is everything with meat that is this thin and hot oil, and your fingers get completely caked with the batter, so I was unable to get you photos of each step while photographing on my own without sacrificing at least one piece of meat.
But here’s the first step — and I wanted to show how much flour should be one the slice of meat. Ensure that all portions, front and back, are covered lightly with flour, then give it a light shake before moving it to the egg.
Take the floured meat and dunk entirely into the egg batter, again making sure every area is “wet” with egg. The flour is what draws the egg to stick to the meat nicely, and the egg is what is going to keep the breadcrumbs stuck to the meat.
I usually keep the bag of flour close by and always, I have the panko breadcrumb open and ready to pour more.
Because of this, you want to use flat plates or trays — the larger, the better so you can move around the meat to fully coat it without making an enormous mess on your counter top.
The image captions are pretty self-explanatory. Because the meat is so thin, from the moment you drop the battered meat into the oil, it’s about 45-60 second until it’s done as long as your oil is the right heat. Hence, I also only do one piece at a time. Even so, it’s a total of 5-6 minutes of deep frying total for the six pieces of meat I’m cooking.
If it’s your first time deep-frying, or first time making donkatsu — PLEASE do one piece at a time. There’s just no rush.
And that’s it!
You can serve it as-is, one piece per person with extra pieces for anyone who wants seconds, drizzled in donkatsu sauce, or throw between buns and pile high with slaw, tomatoes, lettuce and mayo for a delightful lunch. Or whip up a quick curry sauce to pour on top, or my favorite–poach and egg and break it on top. YUM.
For me, rice is a must. In my photos, I’ve sliced one piece and put on top of hot, white rice. With one tray per person, I surrounded the tonkatsu with banchan I made today, and this serving is more than ample for one regular appetite.
But the real partners on this tray are the pickled red onions and the tonkatsu; the acidity of the onions really make the flavors of the pork and breading pop while the savory aspects of the meat bring out the sweetness of the onions.
The recipe is below.
Give it whirl. If it’s your first time, having a partner to cook with makes this a much smoother process. This is by no means a difficult dish to make, but because you’re deep-frying and because just 15 seconds can mean the difference between perfect and burnt, having a helping hand around can make it much more fun.
Got a question? Leave a comment below!
- 3 boneless pork loins
- 2 tsp salt -- for meat and eggs
- 3 eggs (or one egg per small loin)
- 2-3 C unbleached flour
- 3+ C of breadcrumbs
- Oil - I recommend canola oil for deep frying
- Tonkatsu Sauce
- Carefully cut each loin into thin slices - how many depends on how thick your pork loins are.
- Take a tenderizer mallet and follow directions in the recipe post to "tenderize" and "thin."
- Repeat on all the loins you will be using.
- Season each slice of meat with salt.
- Crack 3 eggs into a bowl, season with teaspoon of salt and garlic powder, completely mix and set aside.
- Pour out the designated amount of flour on a flat and large plate or tray.
- Pour out the designated amount of panko breadcrumbs on a flat and large plate or tray.
- Carefully take a slice of meat, coat completely in flour, tap excess off.
- Dunk floured meat into egg, coating completely.
- Dunk meat into breadcrumbs and cover completely.
- Place into the hot oil (see post for temperature and details).
- Fry for 30 seconds on each side, or as needed until golden on both sides.
- Use tongs to remove meat, and let rest in a basket or strainer laid with paper towels to absorb excess oil.
- Serve atop rice and drizzle sauce on top.