More Neat Tokyo Tricks

As I’ve explored in previous posts about tempura, ramen, sumiyaki, sushi and other specialities Japonais, dining in Japan can be very segmented. Stroll about a street in Tokyo and you’ll find restaurants devoted to each of these particular styles of cooking (or not cooking) and many more.

Tonkatsu with Japanese cole slaw and egg/mirin dipping sauce

Tonkatsu with Japanese cole slaw and egg/mirin dipping sauce

Browsing the aisles of my favorite Japanese market the other day, I found a beautiful Kurobata pork loin on sale. Now pork loin can be one of the stupidest of meats, mostly because it has zero fat. But the Japanese have a nifty way of rectifying that problem with the dish, tonkatsu.

Tonkatsu is, basically, the Japanese version of pork schnitzel. And what could be bad about that? Go global! — you could serve it with Japanese pickles and Sapporo for a Bavarian Japanese mash up! The dish was apparently invented in 1899 at a Tokyo restaurant called Rengatei, part of a food movement known as yōshoku — Japanese versions of the European cuisine that had newly been introduced to the country. Maybe this dish really was Bavarian in origin? 

If you put it over rice, it’s called katsudon. In Japan (or Japanese restaurants in America or a country near you), they serve tonkatsu with a thick, weird Worcestershire-ish sauce that, in a country full of delicious sauces, is not my favorite. Regional variations might serve the dish with a miso-based sauce or with ponzu. A bit of trolling around online found foodsters serving it with curry sauce, fried eggs, mustard, a dashi/mirin/egg concoction and other sauce/condiments. I like it simply squeezed with lemon and sprinkled with flaky sea salt. Or, even better, served on a soft roll with lots of mayonnaise and some cabbage. Oh baby, oh baby, oh…

For an added bit of depth, flavor and porky mojo — and to reclaim a little of that fat the pig so selfishly withheld you from his/her loin — cook your tonkatsu in lard. Go ahead, I dare you.

I wound up trying the dashi/mirin/egg concoction mentioned above, and it was pretty tasty. So I’ve included it in my recipe below, along with a simple slaw. Enjoy.

*    *    *

Tonkatsu with Japanese cole slaw and egg/mirin dipping sauce
serves 4

1 lb. pork loin
salt & pepper
1 cup flour
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup (or more) panko bread crumbs
1 cup vegetable oil (or lard, for a more flavorful cutlet)
lemon juice or ponzu
2 cups shredded cabbage
1 green onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp. rice wine vinegar
2 tbsp. mayonnaise
1/4 cup dashi broth
1/4 cup mirin (or sake plus 1 tsp. sugar)
1 tbsp. soy sauce
lemon wedge

Slice the pork loin across the grain into 1 inch-thick slices. With the back of your knife or a meat tenderizer, gently pound the slices into cutlets about 1/4-inch thick (as demonstrated in the video above). Season with salt and pepper.

Place flour, egg and panko in four separate bowls. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Dip each cutlet in the flour, then the egg, then the panko (see video above). Place cutlets in oil and cook the cutlets about 2-3 minutes per side until golden. Remove to a warm plate in a 170-degree oven.

Make your slaw: Place cabbage, scallion, vinegar and mayo in a large bowl and toss until incorporated.

Make your egg/mirin sauce: In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring your mirin, dashi and soy sauce to a simmer. Remove from heat, and stir in the leftover beaten egg from your flour dredging process. Place sauce in a small dipping bowl, or several bowls for each diner.

To serve (as in the beautiful photo above): Spread the slaw over a serving dish. Slice each cutlet into three pieces. Arrange cutlets over the slaw, squeeze with some lemon and sprinkle with flaky sea salt. Serve with dipping sauce.

16 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Michelle
    Feb 04, 2014 @ 01:21:02

    I was just thinking about tonkatsu tonight while flipping through some Japanese cookbooks. I’m with you on that sauce that usually comes with it. Yours sounds good.


  2. glennis
    Feb 04, 2014 @ 03:57:12

    I do a good chicken tonkatsu we like. I kinda dig the ketchup/soy/worcestershire sauce, but I think I’d like ponzu sauce better. It’s good warmed up in the toaster oven for lunch at work!

    Did we tell you that Max will be spending ten days or so in Tokyo on his way back home from London in late February? If you have any tips to give him about places to check out, I’m sure he’d be delighted!


    • scolgin
      Feb 04, 2014 @ 17:13:47

      Hi Glennis! Sure, I’ll send you an email with some recos for Max for Tokyo. Boy, London to L.A. via Tokyo? That is the long cut.


      • glennis
        Feb 07, 2014 @ 05:38:07

        He is visiting a friend there. A good opportunity to do so. I am so jealous, I’d love to go to Tokyo!

      • scolgin
        Feb 07, 2014 @ 23:37:20

        You and Chris should go! It’s closer than Europe, and there are reasonable ways to do it. (Package deals, house swap, diplomatic assignments, etc.)

  3. Rituparna
    Feb 04, 2014 @ 06:12:42

    the dish looks good 🙂


  4. rachelocal
    Feb 05, 2014 @ 19:05:13

    This looks way better than schnitzel and I love a good slaw.

    I always learn something new over here. 🙂


  5. scolgin
    Feb 05, 2014 @ 21:19:01

    There’s no end to the revelations!


  6. Jessamine in PDX
    Feb 06, 2014 @ 05:22:41

    I love the lemon and salt accompaniment. So simple and perfect. Though I’d happily take it in sandwich form too — oh baby indeed!


  7. sdb
    Feb 07, 2014 @ 21:03:30

    I made this the other day following your recipe. It was great. Thanks! The history of these kinds of dishes is also fascinating.


  8. themoviegeekstrikesback
    Feb 09, 2014 @ 12:56:50

    Japanese food is pretty popular where I live, and next to Italian, it’s probably one of the cuisines I go weak in the knees for. Thank you for sharing this, I’m looking forward to trying it soon! 🙂


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