A conjunction of the Japanese word for pork and the English word “cutlet,” tonkatsu is a pork dish that sprang out of Japan in the late nineteenth century, when Japanese cooks began to embrace Western cooking techniques. Today it is a staple of Japanese home cooking and a regular feature on Japanese-American menus. Commercially produced tonkatsu sauce is available in Asian groceries and in many supermarkets. Following instructions found in Japanese-American cookbooks, I tried making homemade tonkatsu sauce using various combinations of bottled sauces—Worcestershire, ketchup, and mustard—but I was not satisfied. When I started from scratch, softening dried plums in a simmering bath of vinegar and water, I got the results I was after.
- ½ cup water
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- ¼ cup rice vinegar
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ cup (about 6 medium) packed pitted dried plums (prunes)
- 1 pork tenderloin, about 1 pound
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- ½ cup unbleached white flour
- 2 eggs
- ¼ cup water
- 1½ cups panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
- Rice bran or canola oil, for frying
- Steamed rice as an accompaniment
- Shredded cabbage as an accompaniment
1. Make the tonkatsu sauce. Put ¼ cup of the water and the cornstarch in a teacup, stir to dissolve, and set aside.
2. In a small saucepan, combine the remaining ¼ cup water with the rice vinegar, sugar, and salt.
3. Cut the dried plums into ½-inch pieces and add them to the saucepan. Cook the mixture over medium-high heat until the plums are slightly softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the cornstarch mixture and cook until thickened, about 1 minute more.
4. Purée the mixture in a blender until very smooth. If no blender is available, the mixture may be puréed in a food processor, but it will not be as smooth.
5.Preheat the oven to 250°F or to the “warm” setting and line a baking sheet with a brown paper bag.
6. Cut the pork tenderloin into 8 pieces. Put the pieces, one at a time, between layers of plastic wrap and pound them into thin rounds about 5 inches across. Sprinkle the rounds with salt and pepper and set aside.
7. Set up 3 wide-rimmed soup bowls. Put the flour in the first bowl. In the second bowl, beat the eggs with the water until smooth. Put the panko in the third bowl.
8. Working with one piece of the pork at a time, dip them first in the flour, shaking off the excess, and then in the egg mixture, allowing the excess to run off. Finally, lay them in the panko, turning and patting gently to coat both sides.
9. Put 3 inches of oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot enough to brown a cube of bread in 30 seconds, fry the pork, 2 pieces at a time. Cook, turning once, until the crust is golden brown on both sides, about 7 minutes altogether.
10. Hold the first browned cutlets in the warm oven on the paper-lined baking sheet while you cook the remaining cutlets. When all the cutlets are cooked, slice them about ½ inch thick and serve with steamed rice, shredded cabbage, and tonkatsu sosu.