Of all the little rituals and practices involved in Japanese dining, my favourite is associated with preparing the sauce that accompanies crispy, deep fried pork at nearly all good tonkatsu restaurants. The sound of a wooden surikogi grinding against the coarse, ribbed ceramic suribachi evokes images of craftsmen and traditions long lost to history; the nutty aroma of the sesame seeds pulverised between stick and bowl rise to meet your nose and do just as much to ready your appetite as the smell of the meat itself. You dampen the crumbly powdered seeds with a ladle or two of tangy sōsu from a dark glazed pot, swirl it briefly with a stroke of your surikogi, then plunge a scalding hot nugget of pork into the marbled sauce on its way towards your mouth. The simple but delicate act of adjusting the flavour of the sauce you’re about to eat creates an emotional connection to the food that makes you far more appreciative of it; it no longer feels like a quick bite to eat, it’s a feast that you’ve helped to make in some small way. Each mouthful feels more satisfying and precious than it would have if you’d been served the seeds ready ground- and the flavour, far greater still.
Of course, this act of grinding your own seeds isn’t the only element that makes a tonkatsu meal so enticing; the incredibly hot, crisply crumbed, juicy fried pork steaks; the mountain of crunchy, cooling shredded cabbage (which normally comes with unlimited refills); the sticky, perfectly cooked blend of rice and barley mounded up in your bowl; and the ability to choose between the fattier more flavourful rosu and the tender and cleaner tasting hire cuts of pork all help make it one of our favourite meals to eat in Japan.
You can follow the same technique described below with a flattened out chicken breast to make torikatsu, a variation of tonkatsu which has become even more popular in the UK than the original, and frequently served with karē sauce.
- 4 pork loin steaks (weighing around 150g each)
- approximately 100g panko breadcrumbs
- approximately 100g plain flour
- 2 eggs
- 1 teaspoon each of salt and black pepper
- 750ml – 1 litre vegetable oil for deep frying
- half a head of cabbage, red or green
- tonkatsu sauce to serve (if you want to make your own, we have a recipe for sōsu here)
- steamed Japanese rice to serve
- white sesame seeds to serve
- Slice the cabbage into fine shreds using a mandoline slicer, or by hand. Place the shredded cabbage into a bowl of cold water and leave to soak whilst you work on making the tonkatsu- this soaking will keep the cabbage crisp and remove any bitterness from it.
- Pour the vegetable oil into a heavy based saucepan wide enough to take your pork steaks, then place over a medium heat and slowly allow it to come to 170ºC.
- Crack the eggs into a wide bowl then beat thoroughly. Measure the plain flour into another wide bowl and the panko into a third; add half a teaspoon of salt and pepper to both the beaten egg and the flour. Trim any obvious sinew from the pork steaks (but leave the all important layer of fat around the outside) before coating them with the seasoned flour, then dip them one at a time into the egg, and finally place them in the bowl of panko, and cover with breadcrumbs, pressing firmly to ensure the pork is well coated all over.
- When the oil has reached temperature, fry the tonkatsu in two batches so as not to overcrowd the pan and lower the oil temperature too much. Gently lower two of the pieces of panko-coated pork into the hot oil and fry for three to four minutes on one side then flip them both over and cook for a further three minutes, or until they are an even golden brown colour- poetically known as kitsune iro or ‘fox colour’ in Japanese. Lift the pork cutlets out of the oil with a mesh strainer and allow them to rest on a wire rack for two or three minutes so any excess oil can drip off, whilst you cook the remaining two portions in the same way as before. It’s important to rest the cutlets on a rack rather than a plate as this allows the residual moisture within the katsu to evaporate and leave a crisp coating.
- Thoroughly drain the shredded cabbage and dry with a salad spinner to remove the excess water; sprinkle the tonkatsu cutlets with a pinch of fine sea salt and slice each of them into six or seven pieces before serving with the shredded cabbage and a bowl of Japanese rice. For an authentic accompaniment, grind some white sesame seeds in a suribachi or mortar and pestle at the table and add these to the sōsu before drizzling it over the crispy, fox-coloured pork.
Serves 4 people.