Japanese "tonkatsu" deep fried pork cutlet is an absolute classic and here 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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What is tonkatsu?
Tonkatsu (とんかつ) is a delicious pork cutlet using a thick slice of pork loin or fillet that has been coated in egg and panko breadcrumbs, then deep fried to golden perfection. It's probably one of the most popular dishes in Japan and the cutlet itself can be used in many other dishes such as katsudon (pork cutlet rice bowl) or katsu curry.
The word "ton" (豚) comes from the Japanese reading for the kanji character "pig". You might have seen it in other names for pork dishes such as tonjiru (pork miso soup), tonteki (pork chop steak) etc. The "katsu" part comes from the Japanese pronunciation of "cutlet".
Tonkatsu is usually drizzled with sauce and served with rice, cabbage and miso soup. While "tonkatsu" is always pork, there are different variations of "katsu" such as:
- Chikinkatsu（チキンカツ）: Chicken Cutlet
- Gyuukatsu（牛かつ）: Beef Cutlet
- Kushikatsu (串カツ) : Deep fried meat or vegetables on skewers
- Miso katsu: (味噌カツ) : Pork cutlet with special red miso sauce
A Brief History of Tonkatsu
Tonkatsu was first seen around 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 It was also originally made with beef, but in Japan, pork is the most common and my personal favourite.
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.
What cut of meat is tonkatsu?
Using the right part of the pork is actually very important when making authentic tonkatsu because ideally, the cut should be quite thick to look nice and satisfying. There are two types of pork parts suitable for tonkatsu: loin and boneless ribs.
Tonkatsu using pork loin tends to be leaner and using boneless ribs makes it meatier and fattier which makes a very satisfying tonkatsu.
Tonkatsu VS Katsudon: How are they different?
Tonkatsu refers to the Japanese deep-fried pork cutlet itself, but katsudon is pork cutlet with onions and other ingredients, simmered in a sweet and savoury broth, topped with eggs, and served with the broth over a bowl of rice.
So you can simply say that katsudon is a kind of spin-off of tonkatsu! The idea of onion, eggs and broth is the same as other donburi recipes such as oyakodon!
Tonkatsu VS Tonkotsu: What is the difference?
Be careful not to mistake "tonkatsu" for "tonkotsu". Tonkotsu is a type of broth made from pork bones (kotsu (骨) is the Japanese word for bone) and generally used for thick ramen soups.
The names might sound similar but they are completely different things!
Using panko breadcrumbs is what makes Japanese katsu extra special.
There are actually two different types of panko breadcrumbs, "dry" and "nama" (fresh).
Dry panko breadcrumbs are very fine, they also have a long shelf life so they're a very convenient pantry item to have! They're more accessible and you don't have to use them up quickly.
On the other hand, "nama panko" are made with fresh bread, they're soft and the crumbs are 2-3 times bigger than the dry panko. A downside to fresh panko is the fact that when they're opened, they spoil quickly, but I really like the fact that they're big, light and create a thicker layer.
When I'm in Japan, I tend to use fresh Hamaotome Soft Panko, however when I was in England I found that JFC Panko breadcrumbs worked well and were easy to find worldwide. (UK readers can buy it in Sainsbury's!)
Another option is to make your own panko, I'll be posting a recipe at a later date!
Tonkatsu is usually drizzled with a delicious and zingy sauce, quite similar to Worcestershire sauce. It's easy to make homemade tonkatsu sauce with a few ingredients you probably already have in your cupboard!
To make tonkatsu sauce you will need:
Just 5 ingredients and a couple of minutes is all you need!
One of the biggest problems you might face when making homemade tonkatsu is the crumb layer not sticking to the surface of the pork. Uneven and messy tonkatsu with gaps is my worst nightmare!
Let's look at the potential causes and how to prevent them!
A gap between the batter and the meat
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 the 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.
Traditional tonkatsu batter is made with a layer of flour, eggs, and breadcrumbs, all of which play a significant role. If one layer is uneven, then the next layer will be compromised.
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. You need to be generous, yet not have excess. It's a delicate balance.
Battering the pork firmly and evenly with each layer is one key for sure!
Batter is too dark
The key to the perfect golden crust is using plenty of oil and setting the temperature accurately. If the temperature is too high then the batter will burn and the pork will potentially be undercooked.
On the other hand, frying when the temperature is too low will result in dry and tough pork with a light coloured batter which is also not good!
To avoid these scenarios, use oil with a high smoke point (vegetable, canola, peanut etc) and fry at 170°C (340°F).
5 Tips and Tricks to make the best Tonkatsu
Here are the 5 tips and tricks to make the best tonkatsu at home!
Make cuts between the meat and the fat
Muscles connect the pink meat and the white fatty parts. Use the tip of the knife and stab the connection line to cut through the muscle.
This prevents curling and a chewy texture when it's done!
Remove excess flour by dusting
Tonkatsu's batter is made by coating an even layer of flour, egg and then panko breadcrumbs.
The first step is coating with flour. We use flour to absorb the meat juices and form gluten. This prevents the meat juices from escaping and also dries the surface, allowing the egg layer to stick next.
While it's important that the pork is fully covered in flour, it is also important to make sure there isn't too much excess. If it has too much flour, it's going to fall off easily later, it will also make lumps in your egg mixture.
Add a little oil to the eggs
One of the ingredients needed for the batter is an egg. Using eggs alone is fine of course, but one popular technique used in restaurants is adding small amount (1 tsp) of oil to 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! I highly recommend this tip!
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 and even 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 you don't use enough oil, the katsu will be touching the bottom of the pan and will burn your panko, this ruins the look and the taste of the katsu. It is still possible to shallow fry tonkatsu (I do sometimes!), but it requires more care and attention.
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 deep 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).
So to summarise the tips for making 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 per egg)
- 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 TonkatsuPrint
Step by step recipe
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.
Other Katsu Recipes
If you love tonkatsu, you can also check out our other recipes that use katsu!
Chicken katsu curry
Katsu curry is a supreme dish (also fatty) created by combining katsu and Japanese style curry. You can easily say this is the ultimate version of Japanese curry. It is said to be the first example of toppings on curry rice in Japan.
My recipe is a katsu curry variation using chicken breast!
Chicken katsu with sesame sauce
Chicken katsu is a variation of katsu using chicken, literally. Because the word "ton" refers to pork, when other meat is used, ton will be removed. In this chicken katsu recipe, I made a different katsu sauce using sesame seeds!
Katsudon (Pork cutlet bowl)
Katsudon is a Japanese rice bowl (donburi) dish topped with tonkatsu. The most common katsudon consists of tonkatsu and onion simmered in soy sauce-flavored broth, then simmered with an egg and served over rice.
Menchi katsu (Ground meat cutlet)
Menchi katsu is made using minced pork or beef mixed with chopped onion, salt, pepper, etc., kneaded together, formed into a small oval or ball shape, coated with a batter consisting of flour, beaten egg, and bread crumbs, and deep-fried in oil. The word "menchi" refers to mince.
Even though it has the word "katsu", menchi katsu is somewhat more similar to croquette (korokke).
Katsu sando (Pork cutlet sandwich)
Katsu sando is a tonkatsu sandwiched between two pieces of Japanese style loaf (shokupan) and often cut into squares or triangles. There are also beef cutlet and chicken cutlet sandwiches, offering a wide range of variations. It's safe to say that it's one of the best Japanese lunch options!
In my recipe, I made two different sauces: miso base sauce and mustard base sauce. Check out the full recipe by clicking the link below!