Katsudon is the king of all donburi dishes! Made with succulent pork cutlet, juicy onions and silky dashi flavoured egg served over a steaming bowl of Japanese rice. It's the ultimate comfort dish!
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What is Katsudon?
Katsudon is a popular rice bowl dish topped with breaded deep-fried pork cutlet and onion simmered in soy sauce and kombu dashi broth and drizzled with egg. It is one of the most well-loved Japanese dishes among children and adults.
While katsudon is most commonly made with pork, you can also make it with chicken if you prefer.
Katsudon is a popular dish!
This dish is usually served in
- Soba restaurants
- Udon restaurants
- Bento shops
- Convenience stores...etc
I believe it's one of the most liked dishes by Japanese people. It's also very common to make it at home. You can buy pre-made cutlet and make this dish very quickly and easily!
So, let's indulge with this delicious katsudon recipe from scratch!
Ingredients for katsudon
Katsudon (かつ丼) is made of 4 main ingredients, it's pretty simple.
- Pork cutlet
Katsudon is a name that combines the words, "tonkatsu" (とんかつ) which means deep fried pork cutlet and "donburi" (丼) which means rice bowl. So the star of this dish is the cutlet!
Pork cutlet is made by coating a piece of pork with flour, egg and panko breadcrumbs and then frying it. I recommend using Hamaotome Soft Panko or JFC Panko breadcrumbs, alternatively you can make your own panko breadcrumbs from scratch using my how to recipe here!
Difference between Katsudon and Tonkatsu
You might be wondering, what is the difference between tonkatsu and katsudon? Many people get these confused because they're both dishes made with crispy pork cutlet and rice right? But they are totally different dishes, so I'm gonna explain each one.
Tonkatsu is the pork cutlet served on a plate with shredded cabbage and rice on the side. The katsu is usually drizzled with a fruity tonkatsu sauce and served next to shredded cabbage. If you order it "teishoku style" (Japanese set meal), it often comes with miso soup and some pickles too.
You can see our recipe for tonkatsu here, it also includes how to make fruity and delicious homemade tonkatsu sauce from scratch.
Katsudon is served with the pork cutlet served in a large bowl, on top of the rice. The word "donburi" (丼) literally means rice bowl after all.
The pork cutlet is placed on top of the broth during cooking and then drizzled with egg. It loses some crispiness because it absorbs the delicious flavour of the dashi broth. The katsu and cooked egg are then placed on top of the rice.
In my recipe I specifically use kombu dashi made with dried kelp. It is more subtle than regular dashi that contains bonito flakes (dashi made with bonito flakes has a fishy flavour). Lastly it's garnished with Japanese wild parsley called "mitsuba".
So in the end, although both tonkatsu and katsudon contain the breaded pork cutlet, the dishes themselves are actually very different!
History of Katsudon
While there is no definite confirmed answer on the origin of katsudon, there are four popular theories:
Theory 1: Kofu, Yamanashi Prefecture around 1900's
This theory is the oldest and considered by many as the one for now. An article was published stating that katsudon was being served at Okumura Honten (奥村本店), an old soba restaurant in Kofu (Yamanashi prefecture) in the late Meiji 30s (1900's).
Theory 2: Fukui Prefecture in 1913
Masutaro Takahata, the first owner of Europe House (ヨーロッパ軒), which now has its headquarter in Fukui, presented his sauce katsudon at a cooking presentation in Tokyo after completing his culinary training in Germany, and later started serving it at his restaurant in Waseda-Tsurumaki-cho.
Theory 3: Waseda, Tokyo in 1919
At Sancho-an (三朝庵) in Waseda area, a student came up with the idea of putting the leftover pork cutlet, which was expensive at the time, on a bowl of rice topped with an egg, like an egg bowl, when he was wondering what to do with it since he could not serve it cold.
Theory 4: Waseda, Tokyo in 1921
Keijiro Nakanishi went into the kitchen of a restaurant called Cafe House, where students used to go often.
In there, he cut a pork cutlet into small pieces, put it on a bowl of rice, boiled down the sauce, poured it on top, and named it Katsudon.
It's interesting to note that two of the theories come from Waseda.
Katsudon in Popular Culture
Katsudon is a popular dish on Japanese TV, featured on animes and dramas alike! Here are a few programmes that mention katsudon.
Katsudon in Anime
Katsudon became particularly famous outside of Japan after being featured on the popular animes "My Hero Academia" and "Yuri!!! on Ice".
On both shows, katsudon is the favourite dish of the protagonists. Katsudon is considered a "winning dish" so it's only natural that it would be the favourite food of well loved leading characters.
In fact, in Japanese the word katsu has a double meaning. While we call pork cutlet "katsu", it also means "to win"(勝つ). It's common to eat katsudon before or after an exam, test or competition, either as good luck or as a reward.
Katsudon in the interrogation room?
One of the most familiar scenes in detective dramas in Japan is the interrogation room. The scene where the suspect eats Katsudon is such a classic scene.
But everyone, including me, has been wondering why katsudon?
It is said that the first time Katsudon appeared in a detective drama was in the movie "Keisatsu Nikki (1955)". In the movie, there is a scene where a policeman treats Katsudon to civilians who have been eating and drinking without paying or stealing.
At that time, Katsudon was the most luxurious food, so it's supposed to be an effective prop to show the warmth of a policeman's heart. I assume this tradition has carried on till now.
You might be wondering, "does that happen in real life?"
Unfortunately, this is something show business made up and police wouldn't just treat suspects with delicious katsudon.
Tips and tricks to make an amazing Katsudon
Katsudon is quite a simple dish, but there are a few tips you can use to take it to the next level. Here are a few of my favourite tips for making the ultimate katsudon!
For tips and tricks for katsu itself, please refer to how to make katsu recipe.
Use kombu dashi
Rather than using regular dashi made with bonito flakes, I make kombu (dried kelp) dashi for this recipe. This is because I want to add umami to the broth without the fishy taste that comes with regular dashi. Kombu dashi is easy to make, you simply soak the kombu in water and then heat it until simmering.
Cook the onions thoroughly
By cooking onions thoroughly, the natural sweetness of the onions will be added to the dish, creating a deeper flavour!
Use light brown sugar
Of course this is optional, but by using light brown sugar instead of white sugar, the sweetness of the broth will be more complex.
Do not whisk the egg too much
The key to making silky tonkatsu is not to beat the egg too much before adding the pan. If you whisk the egg too much it will become foamy and airy rather than silky and soft.
Do not touch the egg once it's in
After pouring the beaten egg around the pan, try not to interfere with it. If you touch the egg before it hardens, it will mix with the dipping sauce and prevent the egg from binding properly.
In addition to this, the egg will break and the presentation will be messy, so I recommend not mixing or touching the egg once it's added to the pan.
Add the whites and yolks separately
Runny egg yolks are my favourite way to serve up eggs, however if you add the whites and yolks at the same time then the yolk can become firm and in my opinion, overcooked.
To overcome this, I separate the egg whites and yolks and add the whites to the pan first. Once they're cooked, I turn off the heat, whisk the yolks and drizzle them over the dish. If you place a lid on the pan for 1-2 minutes, the yolks will cook a little in the residual heat. This method ensures the whites are cooked and the yolks are still runny, resulting in silky and delicious steamed egg surrounding the katsu!
"Katsu" means deep fried pork cutlet and "don" means rice bowl. So together, it means deep fried pork cutlet rice bowl.
Tonkatsu is a deep fried pork cutlet usually served with rice and cabbage on the side. Katsudon, however, refers to deep fried pork cutlet rice bowl, it's all served in one bowl along with onions and steamed egg.
Japanese donburi dishes are always made with short grain Japanese white rice. It's easiest to use a rice cooker, but we also have a guide on how to cook Japanese style rice on the stove here.