Japanese "tonkatsu" deep fried pork cutlet is an absolute classic and I think nearly every Japanese mum knows how to cook this dish. I will show you how to make the crispiest, most delicious tonkatsu that can be served on it's own with rice, salad and miso soup (teishoku style) or as part of another dish!
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Difficulty level: ★★☆☆☆
What is Tonkatsu?
Tonkatsu is the Japanese name for deep fried pork cutlet. Pork chops are coated in crispy panko breadcrumbs, it is pretty similar to German Wiener Schnitzel.
There are different variations of "katsu"
- Tonkatsu（とんかつ）: Pork Cutlet
- Chikinkatsu（チキンかつ）: Chicken Cutlet
- Gyuukatsu（牛かつ）: Beef Cutlet
Using panko breadcrumbs is what makes Japanese katsu extra special.
I personally use Hamaotome Soft Panko when I'm in Japan. When I was in England and couldn't buy my usual brand, I found that JFC Panko breadcrumbs were a great alternative and easy to find worldwide. (UK readers can buy it in Sainsbury's!)
A Brief History of Tonkatsu
The name "Tonkatsu" (とんかつ) is a combination of the words "ton" (meaning 'pork' in Japanese) and the French word "côtelettes" which means cutlet or meat chop.
The dish was first seen in 1899. The history of the dish is still not very clear but as the name suggests, it was probably inspired by French cuisine. It was also originally made with beef, but these days pork is the most common.
Now we eat katsu at home or at restaurants, diners, etc. It has become one of the most loved dishes in Japan, and I bet you will love it too.
Other Katsu Recipes
If you love katsu, you can also check out our other recipes that use katsu!
- Chicken Katsu Kare（チキンカツカレー）Chicken cutlet with curry and rice
- Chicken Katsu (チキンカツ) Fried cutlet made with chicken thigh
- Katsu Don（かつ丼）Cutlet with egg rice bowl
- Katsu Sando（カツサンド）: Pork Cutlet Sandwich
Common Problems When Making Tonkatsu
When we make tonkatsu at home, the biggest problem can be the crumb layer not sticking to the pork properly. This is the worst nightmare as it will be messy and not be crispy like tonkatsu is supposed to be.
So from here, let's look over the potential causes and solutions for this problem
There's a gap between the batter and the meat when cooking
In general, meat has a tendency to shrink when it is heated and tonkatsu is no exception. So if the meat shrinks too much within your batter, there will be gaps between the batter and the meat, and the batter will eventually peel off.
Okay then how can we prevent that from happening?
This can be avoided by pounding the pork chops beforehand. That said, we kind of need to use quite thick pork chops because if you pound thin meat, you will end up with a floppy tonkatsu.
Pounding thick pork chops is one of the keys to preventing the batter from peeling off.
The meat is battered unevenly
How you batter the meat can also cause the tonkatsu's batter to come off. Traditional tonkatsu batter is made of flour, eggs, and breadcrumbs, all of which play a significant role.
If there is any part of the meat that is not well coated with each layer, the batter will start to peel and fall off eventually.
Battering the pork firmly and evenly is one key for sure!
Okay, in the next section, let's go over the tips and tricks not only to avoid failure but also to make your tonkatsu the best!
Best Methods for Coating Tonkatsu:
- Pound the pork chops before coating
- Make sure every layer of flour, eggs and panko breakcrumbs is even
- Press the panko on firmly
5 Tips and tricks on how to make the best Tonkatsu
Here are the 5 tips and tricks to make the best tonkatsu at home!
Make cuts between lean part and fat part
Muscles connect the pink lean parts and white fat parts. Use the tip of the knife and stab the connection line to cut through the muscle.
This prevents chewy texture when it's done!
Remove excess flour by dusting
Tonkatsu's batter is made by coating with flour, egg and then panko (breadcrumbs). So in the first flour step, it's important to dust the flour well at the end.
But rather than starting with little amount of flour, putting on a good amount of flour and then remove the excess at the end is important.
The reason for adding flour is to absorb the meat juices and form gluten. This prevents the meat juices from escaping.
Add some oil to the eggs
One of the ingredients needed for the batter is an egg. Using eggs as they are is fine of course, but one popular technique in restaurants is adding small amount (1 tsp) of oil in the eggs.
By doing that, the oil coats the meat and keep the flavor inside. This actually prevents the batter from coming off as well!
Be generous with breadcrumbs
It's very important to be generous with panko breadcrumbs after the egg layer. Some people might just gently sprinkle the breadcrumbs on top of the meat. But in this way, the panko breadcrumbs do not adhere well.
Use the palm of your hand to firmly compress the breadcrumbs onto the pork.
It's not even an exaggeration to say firmly pressed with a generous amount of panko breadcrumbs make beautiful tonkatsu!
Ideal environment for frying tonkatsu
In the best case, the amount of oil should be at least twice as deep as the thickness of the tonkatsu. If the amount of oil is too small, the bottom can burn and look bad. But it's just the best setup, I still shallow fry tonkatsu sometimes.
Considering this, the ideal pan to fry tonkatsu would be a pan that can hold a lot of oil like a tempura pan and has a high thermal conductivity. If not, you can also use a frying pan or a wok instead.
The temperature is also important. I recommend using a thermometer if possible, just to make sure it's accurate. The ideal frying temperature for tonkatsu is 170°C (340°F).
Tips for Perfect Tonkatsu:
- Make small incisions in the muscle part between the fat and the meat
- Dust off excess flour on the first layer
- Add a small amount of oil to the eggs (about 1 tsp)
- Don't be stingy with the panko breadcrumbs, coat generously and press them down!
- Oil should be twice the depth of the tonkatsu and heated to 170°C (340°F)
Check out our video for How to Make Tonkatsu with Homemade Sauce!
There is only one letter difference, but they are completely different things.
Tonkatsu = Deep fried pork cutlet
Tonkotsu = Broth made from pork bones (Typically used for ramen soup)
Tonkatsu only refers to the deep fried pork cutlet itself, however, katsudon is the deep fried pork cutlet rice served in a bowl of rice and then topped with egg. You can see how to make katsudon here.
In my recipe I use Worcestershire sauce, tomato ketchup, soy sauce, sugar
and white sesame seeds.
The name comes from the French word "côtelettes" which means cutlet.
It is mostly served as Teishoku style (Bowl of rice, miso soup, shredded cabbages, pickles) or as donburi (Katsudon). You can also serve it on top of Japanese curry which becomes "katsu curry".
In Japanese, it's called "とんかつソース" or "Tonkatsu sauce", the same as English!
Chicken katsu is prepared similarly to tonkatsu, it's simply chicken coated in panko breadcrumbs and deep fried. Chicken thigh is most commonly used for chicken katsu, but I actually have a chicken breast katsu recipe on my website here.