What Is Tonkatsu?

Amanda R. Bell

Tonkatsu is a popular dish in Japanese cuisine that is made with pork cutlets, and is categorized as yohshoku, which is a collection of dishes inspired by western cuisine. Dredged in specialized breading and then deep-fried to a golden brown, tonkatsu is typically topped with a unique sweet and spicy sauce. It is most often served with shredded cabbage, which can be plain or dressed with lemon juice or other dressings.

Tonkatsu is a popular dish that is most often served with cabbage.
Tonkatsu is a popular dish that is most often served with cabbage.

Yohshoku is a name given to dishes that are inspired by western cuisine, yet have a Japanese cuisine twist. Based on fried foods common in the United States, tonkatsu is given a Japanese twist with the use of panko breadcrumbs and tonkatsu sauce. In Japan, it is served in Japanese restaurants, establishments featuring all western-style cuisine, and even restaurants that specialize in serving several variations of this dish.

Tonkatsu may be seasoned with mustard.
Tonkatsu may be seasoned with mustard.

Unlike typical western fried pork cutlets, which are usually dredged in flour or finely ground breadcrumbs, the pork is dredged in Japanese breadcrumbs known as panko. Although this style of breadcrumb is made from white bread just as most other varieties are, the bread is not ground to a fine powder prior to drying; rather, it is flaked into relatively large pieces and then dried until crispy. Sold in most Japanese grocery stores, as well as stores around the world, the panko breadcrumbs give tonkatsu a very noticeable crunchy texture.

For this dish, boneless pork chops are pounded out with a mallet until they are relatively thin and even in thickness all the way through. The pork is then breaded in the panko breadcrumbs and deep-fried until cooked through and golden brown. Occasionally, the pork may be cut into bite-size pieces before breading, and then served as finger-food or on skewers. This style of tonkatsu is known as kushikatsu.

This dish is relatively plain on its own; most often, the breading is seasoned only with salt and pepper. For added flavor, a specialized sauce aptly called tonkatsu sauce is typically served with the fried pork cutlets. Rice wine, soy, and Worcestershire sauce are the primary ingredients, and it is typically seasoned with cloves, garlic, and mustard. The sauce can be drizzled over the pork or served on the side for dipping. It can also be topped with reconstituted mustard powder or steak sauce.

Most often, these fried pork chops are served with a side of raw, shredded cabbage. This may be dressed lightly with lemon juice, or with a Japanese-style dressing. Despite this, it is commonly served plain, and the tonkatsu sauce is used to dress the cabbage. It may also be served with other fried foods as a lunch or dinner platter, or with gyoza, which are pork-filled fried dumplings.

Garlic is used to flavor tonkatsu.
Garlic is used to flavor tonkatsu.

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