Prep the cabbage, heat up the oil, and get ready to make some masterful tonkatsu!
by Emily Bushman
Well, well, well. I’m on the edge over here. School is over, teaching is done (for now), and I’ve already started summer work. I’ve been thinking a lot about jobs lately- why people choose them, how we can find happiness in the work we do. I love the work I do, but I know a lot of people who are unhappy with what they do, or are frustrated by what they can’t do. It’s surprising really- I know a lot of college grads who, despite their education, still can’t find jobs. It’s a hard world out there, and college does not necessarily promise all the things many people thinks it does…
Hmm. That got kind of sad and dark incredibly quickly. The reason I bring this up is because what I’m cooking this week is an AMAZING example of finding joy in the most mundane things: Tonkatsu DJ Agetarou! Agetarou works in a tonkatsu restaurant with his father, but his true passion is…..spinning SICK beats in da club! It sounds crazy, and it is, but it gets better: Agetarou realizes that being a DJ is actually pretty similar to being a tonkatsu cook. You’ll really have to watch the show to believe it, folks, but following this realization, Agetarou seeks to master the art of DJ-ing and making tonkatsu, finding his joy in a humble piece of pork and a stereo system.
In any case, we’re going to start with the basic recipe Agetarou’s father shows him in episode 1. It’s a pretty simple place to start with this show, and to make things fun, I decided to follow his instructions EXACTLY to see how the results would be. Even if you’re not a fan of the show, this dish is a Japanese staple and makes for a super quick meal when you’re in a rush. I think it took me about 20 minutes from start to finish.
Here’s a photo of the final meal we’re trying to replicate:
And here’s a handy gif that goes over all the steps:
A note on the ingredients: With the flour, panko, and oil, there aren’t any real measurements. As happens with cooking, you can eye-ball these things. When in doubt, go overboard. There’s nothing worse than running out of panko when your hands are covered in egg and the oil is getting too hot.
-Pork loin tip cutlets (should be about ½-1 inch thick. Otherwise any cut of pork will generally work just fine.)
-Salt + Pepper
-2-3 cups of vegetable oil for frying
Make the Tonkatsu!
Start by preparing the dredging station. Dredging is the kitchen terminology for coating meats with flour/ breadcrumbs to create a crispy outer shell. We need three (more doritoooos! Rocky Horror, anyone? I just saw it the other day…) plates/ bowls. Onto the first plate, tap out some flour. In the second bowl, crack an egg and scramble it up with a fork. Onto the third bowl tap out some panko. Go overboard with the panko rather than with the flour--you’ll need more panko. I definitely ended up needing more than I had in the picture below.
Set that aside, and take the time to chop up your cabbage. I found half a cabbage was enough to replicate the GIANT mountain of cabbage Agetarou’s dad used to garnish his plate.
Simply cut in half, core the the cabbage by cutting out the hard stem in the middle, and start slicing very, very thinly. Japanese tonkatsu cabbage is traditionally served very finely cut, but we don’t have pre-cut cabbage like that where I live. Do your best to make it as thin as possible.
And then pour oil into our pan and set on medium heat to heat up. I made the mistake of setting the flame too high, and my tonkatsu came out a little darker that I would have liked. Set it to medium heat and give it a good couple of minutes to heat fully. You can always bring the temperature up, but it’s harder to cool it off. The oil should come 1/3 to halfway up the side of your pan, so you might want to choose a smaller one to do this, to save oil. You don’t need a lot of space, but you do need more depth to get your tonkatsu immersed in oil. I low-balled it, as you can see in the image below. If you really don’t have a smaller pan, you can use a bigger pan, fill it up with less oil, and just flip your tonkatsu halfway through. I think I used about 2-3 cups of vegetable oil.
As that’s heating up, take out the pork. Dry them off, if wet, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Be generous here!
Once your oil is ready (Between 175-180 celsius), it’s Pork START Time!!! If you don’t have a thermometer, throw a morsel of panko in. If it bubbles up, it’s ready. Alternatively you can stick a wooden spoon handle into the oil. If bubbles form around the end, it’s ready.
Take your pork and coat with flour. Just dip both sides into the flour and pat firmly to make sure it’s coated.
Now the next part happens pretty quickly, which is why I don’t have pictures. One by one, coat the pork cutlets in the egg, so that it’s wet all over, and then straight into the panko. The very minute you’ve done coating one piece, slip it into the oil. Repeat the process with the other two pieces.
As Agetarou’s dad says, first big bubbles will form around the pork, and you’ll hear popping. If this isn’t happening, your oil isn’t hot enough. Raise the heat just a little bit- don’t immediately jack it all the way up. Trust me, this will result in death of your pork cutlet. If your oil doesn’t completely coat your piece of pork, you’ll want to flip it about 3-4 minutes in.
Once it is closer to being done, smaller bubbles will form.
Then, you can take it out! Total cooking time for me was about 8 minutes, if that helps to guide you. Agetarou’s dad just looks at the size of the bubbles to know when it’s done, but I can understand that’s not totally accurate. It worked ok for me, but it might be more difficult if you’ve never fried anything before. I’ll admit though that I’m no frying queen. It actually scares me a bit because I always get burned. Seriously, this time I almost poured boiling oil on my foot. My ninja-like reflexes kicked in and I pulled my foot out of the way, but it was a near thing. Luckily for fried food, it tastes soooo good, so I won’t leave this cooking technique behind.
Anyway, once you pull your tonkatsu out, you can immediately slice and serve! Just pop your pork slices onto a place and absolutely PILE on the mountain of cabbage to replicate the intimidating, yet delicious looking meal Agetarou’s dad lays out.
Oh man, this pork was really good! I was worried I’d overcooked it a bit, because the panko was rather dark, but it was actually perfect. The inside was juicy and tender, and the outside was a wonderful crispy crunch that perfectly offset the juicy pork. I’ve never fried something with that many layers--flour, egg, panko--but it really makes a difference! The cabbage was a refreshing side to the tonkatsu, though I’ll admit I couldn’t get through all the cabbage.
Hope you liked this post! And I really hope you can try this dish out ☺ Let me know down in the comments if you have any tips for making tonkatsu, or if I missed anything here. If you doubt the deliciousness of this dish, behold: my boyfriend, who was suffering from a very sore throat at the time, ate an entire pork cutlet and most of the cabbage. It might help that he also loves this anime but… I prefer to think it was my amazing cooking skillz. Heheheheh :3 I’ll be back next week with a fabulous new recipe! See you then!
(Before I go…is anyone else getting hyped up for Food Wars? I am beside myself. I’ve been scouring the manga lately and have a list of recipes to try out.)
Now you know how to make great tonkatsu--your next step is to become a master DJ! And if you missed it, check out last week's recipe--KIZNAIVER's shrimp fried rice! What dishes would you like to see Emily tackle next on COOKING WITH ANIME?