If you’re somewhat familiar with the menu offerings in Japanese restaurants, you’ve probably seen a dish called tonkatsu —pork cutlets that are breaded and fried. It’s a dish that’s very similar to the German dish schnitzel. But tonkatsu is not the only kind. You can use many types of meat in a katsu dish, and it has become a large part of Japanese culinary culture.
A Short History of Katsu
At the turn of the 20th century, some restaurants in Japan began to serve dishes that were emulated from Western cultures. One of these dishes was tonkatsu. Some believe that it was first served in a restaurant in 1899 and was likely copied from either schnitzel or a similar European dish featuring meat cutlets.
At the time, the dish was referred to as either pork katsuretsu (cutlet) or simply katsu. Around the 1930s, it began to be called tonkatsu (pork cutlet). It has since become one of the most popular dishes in Japan and is usually served with a sweet sauce aptly named tonkatsu sauce.
How is It Made?
Whether it’s made with meat or seafood, one thing that separates a katsu dish from other Western or European meat cutlet dishes is that the protein is breaded with Japanese panko breadcrumbs. Aside from that, the cooking method is relatively simple. You sauté or fry it in oil until done. But there are many variations on how it is served, as well as what the primary ingredient is.
Types of Dishes
Tonkatsu is the most common type you’ll see in Japanese restaurants in America. It is usually made with lean pork tenderloin, known as hire-katsu, but in Japan, you can find premium tonkatsu made with kurobuta, which is Japanese black Berkshire pork. Another variation uses a fatty cut of pork called rosu-katsu, which contains layers of fat that add to the flavor and produce a juicier cutlet.
Chicken katsu is made with boneless chicken cutlets or a butterflied chicken thigh for those that prefer a juicier cut of chicken. It is also popular, as many consider it to be a healthier version of tonkatsu.
This type of katsu is made with a minced meat patty, similar to a burger, only one that has been breaded and deep-fried. Variations using ground pork or a mixture of ground pork and ground beef are also popular.
This dish is made with beef cutlets. The dish is not very common in America. However, you can use beef fillet or sirloin to make this easily at home.
As the name implies, this is a simple salmon that has been breaded in panko and deep-fried. You can make with whitefish as well.
An Important Component: Tonkatsu Sauce
One thing that is commonplace with nearly every type of katsu dish is the tonkatsu sauce. In Japan, it is called sauce, and it is a thick, sweet, and tangy sauce that is essential for katsu dishes but also used in many other dishes.
You can also find ham katsu, cheese katsu, vegetable katsu, and more —essentially anything that can be breaded and fried can be a katsu dish. However, the recipes that use ingredients that aren’t cutlets or patties are referred to as furai (fry) rather than katsu.
Different Ways to Eat Katsu
This traditional Japanese dish is relatively simple to make. Katsudon is primarily a bowl of rice topped with your choice of katsu. Expert chefs can keep it crispy even after it has absorbed the broth.
Another popular dish in Japan, it’s a Japanese curry that is topped with katsu. The curry sauce lends itself quite well to the katsu, and it’s a hearty, comforting meal.
Pork cutlet on a sandwich! This sandwich is made with a soft, white Japanese sandwich bread. It’s traditional to remove the crusts of the bread. Another variation replaces a burger with katsu.
Although a bento box can feature many different items, tonkatsu is often a popular component.
Teishoku means a set meal. It usually comes with a main course with several different side items such as soup, vegetables, and rice. The tonkatsu is often served pre-sliced to make it easier to eat, finely shredded raw cabbage, and fresh lemon.