Tonkatsu (豚カツ : A Fried Food Romance

The story in six words post yesterday, brought to mind a dish my dear samurai made on a regular basis.  It seems in spite of our disparate cultures, he the cultured Japanese scholar and me, the eccentric Tarheel belle, had something in common – a love of fried foods.  One of the first things I fixed for him was southern fried chicken.  He returned the favor by fixing for me, Tonkatsu – a crispy fried pork cutlet. Thus began several happy years of back and forth fried foods – a loving duel of food, hot oil, breadings, and seasonings.

Tonkatsu is a “ubiquitous cafeteria” food in Japan.  There are restaurants in Japan that specialize in Tonkatsu and quality can vary.  It can go from the simple to the sublime and sometimes,  sublimely simple. To be sublime and simple, it is important that the best quality ingredients be used. Tonkatsu can be served in different ways, usually with a sweet brown sauce.  One of my favorites is a sandwich made from the leftovers – a cutlet on a good bun with sliced tomato and lightly seasoned, finely shredded crisp cabbage.  My Samurai would add his inevitable Kewpie.

The name Tonkatsu clues us to its ancestry. Ton, means pork in Japanese, and katsu is an abbreviation of the English word “cutlet” (pronounced ka-tsu-reh-toh in Japanese).  Around the 18th century, the Portuguese introduced to Japan a food that is now known as “tempura”.  We can also look to the 19th century influence for the “cutlet” part.  Anyway, the recipe is below.  Enjoy! Fried Food Foodies – rejoice!  Gamers – get your chow on.

Tonkatsu Recipe

4 center cut pork chops, boneless. 1 inch thick, room temperature
All-purpose flour for dredging
salt and pepper to taste
1 egg beaten
1 C. panko crumbs
oil for frying

Prepare the pork by removing any extra fat or tough silverskin from the sides of the cutlet. Using a chef’s knife (I use my 8 inch) to tenderize the cutlets in a crosshatch pattern by using a drumming motion across the surface, then turning the meat 90 degrees and repeating. Do this to both sides of each cutlet until they are 3/4″ thick. Salt and pepper both sides of each cutlet, then dredge them in flour, making sure to get an even coat on the sides. Beat the egg in a shallow bowl. In another shallow bowl, add the panko. Add 3/4″ of oil into a heavy bottomed pot and heat over medium heat. Coat a cutlet in egg then transfer to the bowl with the panko. Shake the bowl to evenly coat the cutlet, then press on the cutlet to get a nice thick coating of panko. Flip and press on the other side then repeat with the rest of the cutlets. Once the oil is at 340 degrees F, use tongs or chopsticks to gently lower the tonkatsu into the oil. Be careful not to scrape off too much panko. When golden brown on one side, carefully flip them over and brown the other side. Continue cooking until the pork reaches 137 degrees F at its thickest part. Transfer to a paper towel lined wire rack and let it rest  about 5 minutes. Letting the meat rest allows the internal temperature to continue to rise to around 145 F while allowing the proteins to relax, reabsorbing some of the juices so they don’t run all over your plate.

You can serve the cutlets whole or slice. You can also use chicken cutlets for this recipe. Bottled tonkatsu sauce is available at Asian food stores and some grocery stores in the Asian food section. Homemade Sauce: I make my samurai’s sauce with Worcestershire sauce, ketchup, some A1, reduced sodium soy sauce, bit of freshly grated ginger and garlic.  NOTE:  leftover cutlets are a great gaming munch!

Tonkatsu 2            20120919-223139-tonkatsu-sauce-step-1[1]

Hanami Picnic Food

 Like any picnic, you want food that will keep well, not take up a lot of space or be a lot of trouble.   These are some traditional Japanese recipes and often show up at hanami.  Of course, you can always do the KanzenSakura thing with a South meets East – have southern fried chicken and instead of potato salad, try the Hanami Salad or some pickled veggies along with other foods.  A note about onigiri – I think of it as “round sushi with stuff inside” and put things I like inside and can be square, round, or triangular. Cold sake, white wine, beer, apple juice, sparkling cider, champagne, water with lemon and mint….all are good to drink with this food.  よく食べる Yoku taberu  (Eat well!)


Hanami Salad

Hanami Salad 

8 oz  Rice vermicelli (fine noodles) or regular vermicelli

2-4 Spring onions

4 oz. asparagus

a few radishes

1 large carrot

2 tablespoons mirin (or sherry)

A dash of sesame oil (ordinary oil will do but add a few sesame seeds or a handful of peanuts to the salad to give it a nutty flavour)

A dash of light soy sauce

Cook the rice noodles according to the packet instructions and then plunge into cold water to cool. Drain really well even blotting with kitchen roll or a clean tea towel to remove as much of the excess water as possible.    Blanch or cook the asparagus for a couple of minutes and then plunge them in cold water too. Drain well, again trying to get rid of as much excess water as possible.

Chop the spring onions and slice the carrots and radishes finely into discs. Using a sharp knife cut 5 or 6 V shaped nicks out of the radish discs evenly spaced around the edge to make them into a flower. You can do the same with the carrots or use a flower shaped vegetable cutter (a metal clay cutter or cookie cutter will do just as well). (this makes them look like flowers!)  Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and toss well to coat with the oil, mirin and soy sauce.

onigiri 2

Onigiri – Rice Balls

4 cups of hot freshly cooked Japanese-style rice (What kind of rice can you use? No, you cannot use long-grain, jasmine, basmati, or Uncle Ben’s.) Short Grain (sushi rice) rice

2 sheets of nori seaweed, cut into 3cm/2 inch wide strips


You can add a bit of red coloring to some of the rice to make the rice pink.

 Fillings – Traditional. Some classic fillings are pickled plum (umeboshi), bonito flakes just moistened with soy sauce (okaka), bonito flakes mixed with pickled plum (umekaka), flaked cooked salted salmon (shake or shiozake), cooked salty cod roe (tarako), chopped up pickles (tsukemono) **See my blog on this site for Quick Pickles – “Quickles”

Non-Traditional Fillings:  Ground meat (pork or beef or a mixture), cooked with grated or chopped ginger, then flavored with soy sauce, some red pepper flakes, sake or mirin, and sugar. It should be quite dry. Curry flavored ground meat mixture works surprisingly well too.  Canned tuna, well drained and flaked, flavored with a bit of soy sauce and/or salt to taste.  Flaked corned beef.   Chopped up western style pickles (as long as they don’t have too much garlic in the brine), well squeezed to get rid of excessive moisture .   Chopped veggies such as carrot, spring onion, avocado, cucumber: sprinkled with a bit of rice vinegar and soy, chopped barbecue chicken or pork, chopped deviled egg, chopped pickled vegetables.         Non-Traditional fillings are often perishable.  Keep in mind for picnics during warm weather take appropriate precautions!

Wet your iclean hands with cold water, and sprinkle them with salt. Take 1/2 cup of the rice and place on one hand. Make a dent in the middle of the rice with your other hand. Put in about 1 tsp or so worth of filling in the dent.

Working rapidly, wrap the rice around the filling, and form into a ball. To make the traditional triangular shape, cup your hand sharply to form each corner, and keep turning it until you are happy with the shape. Practive makes perfect.

Wrap the rice ball with 1-2 strips of nori seaweed.  Repeat for the rest of the rice.

To bring along on picnic, wrap in plastic film or in a bamboo leaf (which is traditional). Some people prefer to carry the nori strips separately, and to wrap them around the onigiri when eating, to preserve the crisp texture of the seaweed.  (This is what I do)


Tamago-yaki Recipe – Sweet Rolled Omelet

3 eggs
1 tablespoon mirin
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon light soy sauce

I like to add very finely minced spring onion and parsley to mine.

Crack your eggs and lightly mix them. You don’t want to incorporate air into them so the best way is to use chopsticks: stir them gently without whipping, but make sure that the eggs and yolks are completely homogeneous. Add the mirin, sugar and soy and gently mix in.

Use a paper towel to evenly spread a bit of oil in your pan. Heat it on medium low heat, then add the eggs so they cover the bottom of the pan.

After 2-3 minutes, the egg will start to cook and solidify. The eggs don’t need to be entirely cooked, in fact, they should be a tiny bit moist on top so that the egg sticks to itself. Using chopsticks or a spatula, fold the egg over onto itself twice, like how you would fold a letter into thirds. Don’t flip the eggs, just push them to the end of the pan.

Use your oily paper towel to spread a tiny bit more oil in the pan and add a bit more of the eggs. Lift up the log of already cooked eggs so that the raw eggs are touching them. When the new layer of egg is almost cooked, fold the eggs over onto themselves again. Repeat until all the eggs are used.

Wrap in saran wrap and using a sushi mat, press the tamago into a rectangle shape. Let cool completely, slice and enjoy!  Or you can just into thirds instead of halves like a conventional omelet and cut into slices.  Videos making tamogyaki can be found on YouTube.


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