How to Make Tonkatsu (Japanese Panko-Breaded Pork Cutlets)

My mother, like many women of her generation and before, believes that the key to a man’s heart is through his stomach. As I approached the time-to-get-married age, she made it her mission to teach me some basic dishes.

One of these is tonkatsu, which is a Japanese panko-breaded pork cutlet. It’s one of my favorites—the delicate panko breadcrumbs add a delightful crunch to the fork-tender pork, and one can get really creative with the accompanying dipping sauce. Most of the time I’m lazy, so I just use the premade ponzu or tonkatsu sauce or even A1. I’ll be sure to add another post on how to make some of my favorite sauces later.

Note: Sometimes I use chicken breast instead of pork tenderloin. Either works well for this recipe.

Mama Sophia’s Tonkatsu Recipe (Japanese Panko-Breaded Pork Cutlet)
1-2 pounds pork cutlets or chicken breasts
Mirin (rice wine) or Gekkeikan plum wine
Flour or tempura batter powder
2 eggs
Panko breadcrumbs
Salt and pepper

1) Tenderize the meat by soaking pork cutlet in mirin (Japanese rice wine) or Gekkeikan plum wine for at least 30 minutes.

2) Pound meat with kitchen mallet or dull part of knife on both sides so cutlet is to about 1/2 inch thickness. You don’t want it too thick because it will be harder to cook thoroughly. You don’t want it too thin because all you’ll taste is the breading.

3) Make sure oil is hot enough before frying. The oil will be hot enough when you add a pinch of the panko crumbs into the oil and it floats up quickly. Turn down heat if oil is too hot (breaded meat is turning brown too fast).

4) For ease of preparation, follow the French concept of mise en place (“everything in its place”). Create an assembly line—first the flour or tempura batter powder in one flat bottom bowl; next the beaten egg in another bowl; finally the panko breadcrumbs in its own bowl.

5) Take cutlet out of wine bath, lightly salt and pepper, and then go through the assembly line—flour, egg, and finally panko breadcrumbs. (Some people like to do 2 coatings of breadcrumbs, but I think one is perfectly fine.)

6) Cook cutlet in hot oil about 2-4 minutes on each side. (It’ll turn a nice golden brown.) Once it’s cooked, transfer onto paper towel-lined plate to absorb excess oil. If you’re planning on cooking all the meat before serving, put the ones that are cooked on a baking sheet and keep warm in a 325 degree oven.

7) After each batch, try to skim off the floating panko crumbs so you’ll get a cleaner looking end product.

Serving suggestion: Serve tonkatsu on a bed of shredded cabbage and carrots and ginger-citrus dressing on the side, and of course, steamed rice.

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