Crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside, this is the best homemade Tonkatsu (Japanese pork cutlet) recipe my family loves!
If you’re like me who loves deep-fried foods, precisely panko coated crispy foods, you will love a Japanese pork cutlet called Tonkatsu (とんかつ, 豚かつ). And I’m here to help you make the best possible Tonkatsu ever in your own kitchen!
What is Tonkatsu?
For those of you who are new to this dish, Tonkatsu is a Japanese food that consists of a breaded, deep-fried pork cutlet. Pork loin (ロース rōsu) or fillet (ヒレ hire) are typically used for this dish. The word Ton (豚) comes from “pork” and Katsu (カツ) is an abbreviation of Katsuretu (カツレツ) derived from the English word “cutlet”.
While researching for this post, I found out that Katsuretu was usually made with beef! What a surprise. The dish was originally considered a type of Yoshoku (Japanese western meal) back in early the 20th century. The pork version was introduced in 1899 at a restaurant called Rengatei (煉瓦亭) in Ginza, Tokyo.
What’s the difference between Japanese pork cutlets from other versions you might ask? The biggest difference is that Tonkatsu is breaded with panko (パン粉), a Japanese style breadcrumb made from white bread without crusts. The crisp and crunchy panko flakes are larger than breadcrumbs and give it a light and airy texture. Since it absorbs less oil than breadcrumbs, it turns crispy after being fried.
Another difference is that Tonkatsu is always deep-fried (or you can use a little bit of oil and shallow fry) instead of “pan-fried” with some oil.
If you’re worried about eating deep-fried foods, I have two pieces of advice for you. Don’t eat it often, but when you eat it, enjoy it to the fullest! And eat lots of vegetables with deep-fried food. My mom often says we need to eat the double amount of vegetables compared to meat for a meal. Tonkatsu and other Japanese panko-breaded deep-fried foods are almost always served with a mountain of raw shredded cabbage.
3 Tips to Make Best Tonkatsu at Home
Tonkatsu is actually one of the quickest and simplest meals you can make at home. You just need to know a few tricks to make the perfect Tonkatsu, juicy on the inside and crispy on the outside.
Tip #1: Moisten panko
This is a trick I learned a while ago. In Japan, we can purchase a type of panko called Nama Panko (生パン粉). It’s basically panko that’s not crusty but moister just like how we shred the white fluffy parts of bread. To re-create the same panko, we “spray” some water (not pour!) to moisten the panko first.
Tip #2: Pound pound pound
Getting really good ingredients for a recipe that only requires a few ingredients is very important. For this recipe, you can also improve the meat texture by pounding it first, making it extra tender. If you don’t own a meat pounder, just use the back of your knife to pound. That’s what I did in my college days.
Tip #3: Double-fry
Finally, the key to great Tonkatsu is to double fry the pork. You deep fry once and let the pork sit for a bit to cook inside with remaining heat, and then deep fry again to get the ultimate crispiness.
How to Dispose of the Cooking Oil
If one of the reasons you don’t like deep-frying is dealing with used cooking oil, I have a few solutions.
First of all, NEVER pour it down the sink. It’s not environmentally friendly and it will solidify and cause blockage in the pipes.
The easy and quick solution is to buy the oil solidifying powder (waste oil hardener) at Japanese grocery stores, Asian grocery stores, or Amazon. The powder allows you to dispose of the used oil easily in the trash.
If you can’t get those, then pour the cooled oil into an empty milk carton and toss it in the trash.
But be sure to check out and follow your local trash disposal and recycling procedures before disposing of the cooking oil.
The Last Option: Baked Tonkatsu
For those of you who still prefer a lighter version of Tonkatsu and don’t want to deep fry in your kitchen, you can check out my Baked Tonkatsu recipe. It’s wildly popular and JOC fans simply love it!
- 2 boneless pork loin chops (½ inch thick)
- kosher/sea salt (I use Diamond Crystal; use half for table salt)
- freshly ground black pepper
- 3 cups neutral-flavored oil (vegetable, rice bran, canola, etc) (for deep frying)
- 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour (plain flour)
- 1 large egg (50 g w/o shell)
- ½ Tbsp neutral-flavored oil (vegetable, rice bran, canola, etc)
- ½ cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs) (if you are in Japan, get nama panko (生パン粉))
To Make Fresh Panko
- For Tonkatsu, I highly recommend using fresh panko (we call it "Nama Panko"). It's fresh bread crumbs, not a dried one. You can use a food processor to make fresh panko from white bread without crust. Here, I spray water on regular dried panko to create the fresh panko. In 15 minutes, the panko becomes soft and tender. Make sure to get panko from Japan. Western panko breadcrumbs are a bit different. Set aside.
To Prepare Pork
- Remove the extra fat and make a couple of slits on the connective tissue between the meat and fat. The reason why you do this is that red meat and fat have different elasticity, and when they are cooked they will shrink and expand at different rates. This will allow Tonkatsu to stay nice and flat when deep frying and prevent it from curling up.
- Pound the meat with a meat pounder, or if you don’t have one then just use the back of knife to pound. When using knife, crisscross by first pounding top to bottom then left to right.
- Mold the extended meat back into original shape with your hands.
- Season the meat with salt and pepper.
To Bread the Pork
- In a large bowl or plate, add ½ Tbsp. of oil for each egg you use and whisk them up. By adding oil, the meat and breaded coating won’t detach from each other while deep frying.
- Dredge in flour and remove excess flour.
- Dip in egg mixture.
- Dredge in panko. After removing excess panko, press gently. While deep frying panko will “pop up” so at this moment they don’t have to be fluffy.
To Deep Fry
- Heat oil in a wok over medium heat and wait till oil gets 350ºF (180ºC). If you don’t have a thermometer, stick a chopstick in the oil and see if tiny bubbles start to appear around the tip of the chopstick. Alternatively, you can drop one piece of panko into the oil, and if it sinks down to the middle of oil and comes right up, then that’s around 350ºF (180ºC) as well. When the oil reaches that temperature, gently put Tonkatsu into the oil. Keep watching the oil’s temperature and make sure it doesn’t go over 350ºF (180ºC) or else it’ll look burnt.
- Deep fry for 1 minute on one side and flip to cook the other side for 1 minute. If your pork chop is thinner than ¾ inch, then reduce the timing to 45 seconds for each side.
- Now take the Tonkatsu out and get rid of the oil by holding Tonkatsu vertically for a few seconds. Place on top of the wire rack (if the wire rack is not available, substitute with a paper towel) and let it sit for 4 minutes. The hot oil on the exterior is slowly cooking the meat as it sits. Please do not cut to check whether the inside is cooked or not. We need to keep it closed to retain the heat. While waiting, you can scoop up fried crumbs in the oil with a fine-mesh strainer.
- After resting for 4 minutes, bring the oil back to 350ºF (180ºC) of oil again and deep fry Tonkatsu for 1 minute (about 30 seconds each side). Poke the meat with a chopstick and if clear liquid comes out then it’s done. Drain the oil by holding the Tonkatsu vertically again for a few seconds. Then leave it on top of the rack/paper towel for 2 minutes. If you have to use a paper towel, try to keep Tonkatsu in a vertical position so it does not get soggy on one side.
- Cut Tonkatsu into 3 large pieces (see below) by pressing the knife directly down instead of moving back and forth. This way the breading will not come off. Then cut in half again in the center. Transfer to a plate and serve immediately with tonkatsu sauce. Typically, tonkatsu is served with shredded cabbage (I recommend this cabbage slicer).
- You can store the leftover in an airtight container and freeze up to a month. To reheat, put the defrosted or frozen tonkatsu on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil or parchment paper. Bake at 350ºF (180ºC) for 15-20 minutes for defrosted ones or 30-40 minutes for frozen ones. Check if the inside is warm before serving.