THE SECRET OF THE TONKATSU RECIPE
Ton means pig/pork in Japanese, and katsu is the abbreviation for katsuretsu, cutlet or chop. The name literally means pork chop, but you can also prepare a tonkatsu with pork tenderloin.
The slice of meat is first tenderized with a mallet, then dipped in beaten egg mixed with a little water. It’s then covered with panko (Japanese breadcrumbs) before being plunged into hot oil. It’s fried until cooked and crisp, then drained before serving.
The piece of fried pork is then cut into strips around 2 cm thick to be served on the plate. Tonkatsu is traditionally accompanied by a sweet-savory sauce, simply called “tonkatsu sauce” (similar to a Worcestershire sauce), and served with shredded cabbage and Japanese mustard, karashi. It’s sometimes served with a small slice of lemon, and of course you eat it with a bowl of rice, too.
VARIATIONS ON A THEME
There are, however, several other ways to enjoy tonkatsu. Served on a bowl of rice, covered with softy cooked eggs and green onions, it becomes katsudon, literally “bowl of katsu”, a delicious example of a donburi! Served with curry, it’s a katsu-kare. This dish is also accompanied by rice. Finally, in a sandwich, it becomes a katsu-sando.
To read: Donburi
Variations of this frying technique, using other ingredients, are also popular in Japan. We are still talking about the katsu method, although no longer using pork chops.
You can also find chicken katsu (tori-katsu), minced pork beef (menchi-katsu), but also beef, shrimp, and even hard-boiled egg! The word katsu really refers to any deep-frying in the original technique of tonkatsu.
HOW TO MAKE TONKATSU AT HOME
WHERE DOES TONKATSU COME FROM?
The origins of tonkatsu in Japan are not clear, but everyone agrees that this dish is inspired by Western cuisine. The myth of its creation says it began in the late nineteenth century, in a small restaurant in Tokyo renowned for serving Japanese dishes inspired by the West. Tonkatsu was then called “Pork katsuretsu” (pork cutlet).
Western influence was encouraged during the Meiji period by Emperor Meiji (1867-1912), who wanted to celebrate the opening of his country to Westerners. It was at this time that Western cuisine began to strongly influence Japan.
Read also: Tempura
There is actually a close resemblance of tonkatsu with the German schnitzel or Milanese escalope. However, tonkatsu has been completely adopted and integrated by Japanese culture, not only because of the use of panko breadcrumbs, but also because it’s always served with rice and miso soup!
THE BEST RESTAURANTS IN TOKYO TO EAT TONKATSU
Here are three of the best tonkatsu restaurants in the capital:
It is THE benchmark for tonkatsu in Tokyo. Not far from the Nezu Museum, this restaurant located in a small traditional house uses only very high-quality pork. The chef has mastered the perfect cooking of the meat, which is more tender and thicker than elsewhere. Delicious!
Address: 2 Chome-24-9 Nishiazabu, Minato City, Tokyo 106-0031
Another excellent restaurant, near Akihabara, famous for its unique sauce and its slow and low cooking technique. Be sure to sit at the counter, so that you can see the cooks in action.
Address: 1-8-14 Sotokanda, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo, 101-0021
A warm and friendly place recommended in the 2019 Michelin Guide. Rosu-katsu (the fattiest, juciest cut of pork) is their best seller. You may have to wait a while to be able to taste their particularly juicy pork, accompanied by cabbage, rice and miso soup, but it will be worth the wait.
Address: 2-8 Kanda Ogawamachi, 1F Ogi Bldg., Chiyoda 101-0052