- Superb Tonkatsu (Japanese Pork Cutlets)
- Be a master of tonkatsu history!
- Be a master of pork breeds!
- Be a master of tonkatsu sauce
- How to cook Tonkatsu?
Superb Tonkatsu (Japanese Pork Cutlets)
There are various Japanese dishes that call for pork, but tonkatsu is definitely the most popular. Tonkatsu is alao very popular in California, where it’s widely known by the name “pork cutlet.” The most important factor in making delicious tonkatsu is the taste of the pork itself. The tonkatsu made with flavorful kurobuta (black hog) meat is utterly exquisite. Various cuts of pork are used to make tonkatsu, and there are various cooking methods ranging from the classic dish made with pork fillet or loin to umejiso* -stuffed tonkatsu (*ume-plum paste with perilla leaf). Then, there is something else you should never forget is the sauce that complements the flavor of tonkatsu. There are various tonkatsu sauces available today, ranging from regular kinds to those flavored with gomamiso (miso with sesame seed). Also, non-heated tonkatsu sauce has become increasingly popular these days. Because tonkatsu is such a versatile dish, it can be difficult to decide how to cook it or which sauce to use. The world of tonkatsu is so deep that one couldn’t describe it in one word.
Be a master of tonkatsu history!
Part 1 – The flavor of Bunmei Kaika (civilization and enlightenment)
As the Meiji Restoration led Japan into a new era, the influence of the Bunmei Kaika (civilization and enlightenment) even spread into the food culture of the common people. The most significant change in Japanese food culture came with the introduction of Western-style meat dishes. Some of today’s most popular meat dishes, including sukiyaki, beef steak and tonkatsu, were all born during the Meiji period. Among them, tonkatsu has become a staple pork dish in Japan.
The origin of tonkatsu is a dish called “cutlet” in English or cotelette in French. There are other dishes believed to share the same origin, such as the Italian dish called cotoletta (a Milano-style cutlet) and Vienna’s local specialty dish, which is called schnitzel. To make cotelette, pork is sautéed first and then finished in the oven. Although cotelette was originally a butter-baked dish, the Japanese used oil instead and deep-fried pork. This is how tonkatsu was born.The first person who came up with the idea of deep-frying pork is said to be Motojiro Kida, the owner of the restaurant “Rengatei,” which opened in Ginza in 1895. Because Ginza was close to the expatriate district in Tsukiji, where many foreign customers also came by, and the restaurant thrived. But Kida was eager to find a way to create an even more delicious dishes, when one day he thought of deep-frying pork like tempura. He also thought about the accompaniment. Because the main dish was meat, he wanted something non-greasy. After searching for a seasonal, light-tasting food that was easy to obtain, he chose thin-shredded cabbage. Thus he created the combination of deep-fried pork cutlet and thin-shredded cabbage, and now you know that the roots of this golden combination can be traced back to Ginza.
Part 2 – The origin of the name
So, tonkatsu is believed to have originated in Ginza, but back then it was called “katsuretsu”. Katsuretsu became widely available to common folks at the beginning of the Showa period, which was the time when a boom in pig farming swept the Kanto region, casing pork prices to drop. At the time, “meat” meant “pork”. In the middle of this pig boom, the name “tonkatsu” (“ton” means “pig”) was created.
A legend says that the person who gave the dish a new name was Shinjiro Shimada, who once worked as a chef specializing in Western cuisine in the Imperial Household Ministry (now the Imperial Household Agency). Around 1929, he wondered: “Steak can be as thick as one inch”, but why can’t we make equally thick katsuretsu?” So, he decided to tackle this question. Back then, katsuretsu was made with finely cut or thinly sliced pork. Shimada worked to improve the dish here and there, until he finally established a method by which a pork cutlet about an inch thick could be heated through. This is the origin of the thick, juicy pork-loin cutlet that we all love so much. Shimada wanted to give a new name to this newly transformed dish, so he created the word “tonkatsu”, a compound of “ton(pig)” and “katsuretsu”.
Be a master of pork breeds!
The best-tasting pork: Kurobuta (black hog)
Various breeds of hogs are used to make tonkatsu. Those that are most commonly eaten are Yorkshire, Landrace (white) and Duroc (reddish brown) breeds. However, the one considered the most delicious is the Berkshire breed which is typically called the Kurobuta (black hog). As the name suggests, the body of the Kurobuta hog is black in color, except for the six white parts–the four ankles, nose and tip of the tail—called “roppaku (six whites)”, which is the most distinctive characteristic of the Kurobuta. Actual Kurobuta hogs look so cute and adorable that you’ll never forget them.
The Berkshire breed was first imported to Japan from England during the Meiji period. The importation of the breed peaked during the Taisho period, which lasted until about 1995. Then, due to its high prices, the consumption rate of the Berkshire breed began to dwindle, and at one point, it had almost completely disappeared from Japan. Lately, however, the rich flavor of Kurobuta pork has become more appreciated. Plus, today’s consumers demand delicious pork regardless of high prices. So, the number of Kurobuta hogs consumed in Japan has increased again. However, after the increasing popularity of the Kurobuta, black/white cross breeds have begun appearing on the market, causing confusion among consumers. So, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries has set the meat product quality standard, which states that only 100% Berkshire pork can be designated as “Kurobuta pork”.
The Kurobuta pork is distributed as generally more expensive pork than other breeds because of its long breeding period. Regular hogs can be commercialized about six months after birth, whereas Kurobuta hogs require eight months due to their slower growth rate. Also, a female Yorkshire sow gives birth to about 12 piglets at one time, whereas a female Berkshire sow has only eight piglets or so. Additionally, breeders of Berkshire hogs are very particular about the feed they use. In Kagoshima Prefecture, exceptionally flavorful pork has been successfully produced by feeding the hogs satsuma-imo (sweet potatoes). This method has been adopted by breeders throughout the world. For these reason, the cost of breeding Kurobuta hogs is high,which is why Kurobuta pork is more expensive.
The beautiful, bright-red color of the Kurobuta’s flesh is darker than that of the white hog. There is high-quality fat running throughout the flesh, like that of marbled beef, which makes it look very tantalizing. Even after it’s coked, the pork stays tender and juicy and doesn’t get dried out. It has a good, solid flavor, so you’ll never get tired of eating it. When it comes to the pork-loin cutlet, Kurobuta is the best choice. When you plan to make tonkatsu at home, come to Nijiya Market to pick up your Kurobuta. Indeed, many tonkatsu fans in Japan always use Kurobuta pork.
Be a master of tonkatsu sauce
The non-heated kind is the best choice
Tonkatsu and sauce are inseparable. The sauce is generally called tonkatsu sauce, and its base is Worcestershire sauce, from England. When the Showa period began, starch was added to Worcestershire sauce to produce a thicker type of sauce. Depending on the thickness, the sauce can be called Worcester (thin, Chuno (medium thick) or Noukou (thickest). Tonkatsu sauce is also a type of Worcester sauce. Its flavors and ingredients are adjusted in such a way that it goes with tonkatsu. Even though there are various names and various styles of sauces, most of them have been produced basically by making some alterations on Worcester sauce, and technically, they all fall under the classification of Worcester sauce. In the Kansai region many people claim that the sauce for tonkatsu must be a thin Worcester sauce.
To make Worcester sauce, you’ll need the paste made of vegetables and fruits such as tomatoes and apples. The paste is combined with sugar, vinegar, salt, spices, starch, caramel and other ingredients, which will then be stored until they mature. Today, the majority of Worcester sauces are produced with the paste made by simmering vegetables over heat. However, with this method, the dietary fiber and vegetable flavors can’t be retained.
The non-heated sauce is a fermented food. Vegetables are broken down with the aid of natural enzymes, so the natural flavors and dietary fibers of the vegetables remain intact. There is no need to add flavors, and the flavor becomes even richer by maturing over a long period of time.
Our number-one pick among the non-heated tonkatsu sauces is Tokiwa Sauce. It’s made by a pioneer of the enzymatic fermentation method and has received awards from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, as well as the Governor of Tokyo. With carefully selected ingredients and seasonings, Tokiwa Sauce is the best sauce to complement tonkatsu. It’s light-tasting but is flavorful, with just the right amount of sweetness and acidity created through the long aging process.
Be a master of flavor
So far, we’ve looked into the history of tonkatsu and learned much about the dish. By now you probably have an idea of what “truly delicious tonkatsu” should be like. That’s what we call “superb tonkatsu”.
The pork we use is 3.5 to 4.0 oz. Kurobuta loin. We need an appropriate amount of flour, one egg, a tablespoon of water and an appropriate amount of panko breadcrumbs. Either rice-bran oil or canola oil will be a good choice. Remember, the sauce should be a non-heated one! Choose the one that has your preferred thickness. As for thin-shredded cabbage, let’s use an organic cabbage. Cut it in half horizontally and shred the top portion to serve with tonkatsu, whereas the bottom half can be used later for making vegetable stir-fry or pickles. A small amount of fine Japanese mustard completes the superb tonkatsu. Now, let’s give it a try!
How to cook Tonkatsu?
Let’s make superb tonkatsu.
Be a master of the double deep-frying technique!
- Panko (bread-cumbs)
- To minimize the shrinkage of the pork, make about 3 shallow cuts into the sinews embedded in the meat.
- Dust the pork loin on both sides with flour. Brush off any excess.
- Add water to the egg and beat well. Coat 2) completely with the egg mixture.
- Dredge the pork in panko bread-crumbs and press lightly with your hand. Let stand for 10 minutes.
- Heat a sufficient amount of oil in a pan until the temperature reaches 347°F. Place the pork in oil (the side that will face up on the serving plate should be up) and deep-fry for 2 minutes.
- Take the pork out of the oil and let stand for 3 minutes. Return the pork into the oil and deep-fry 1 to 2 minutes until golden.
- Place the deep-fried pork on a wire rack. Insert a toothpick in the center of the pork. If the juice runs clear, your tonkatsu is ready to serve.