Sunday, March 28, 2010

Test Kitchen: Pork Tonkatsu

I knew putting together the poll for this month’s Test Kitchen (where I test the recipes from the pages of Food and Wine magazine) that the pork tonkatsu recipe would win (40%). I mean, fried breaded pork cutlets? I knew you guys would force me to make something fried.

Well, I put it out there as an option because this was supposedly a healthy version of pork tonkatsu. I was also interested in this recipe because it reminds me a lot of growing up in Hawaii.

Pork tonkatsu is one of the popular plate lunch entrées (others are teriyaki beef and kalua pig). I’ve eaten pork tonkatsu before, and enjoyed it, but I limited it when I was growing up because I knew it was deep-fried. And when I left Hawaii, I ate pork tonkatsu (offered at many Japanese restaurants) as often as I ate fried chicken.

You can get the full recipe from the Food and Wine Web site here. And here’s how it went in my kitchen.

First off, you make the sauce that goes with pork tonkatsu. I have to say, even though I don’t eat a lot of pork tonkatsu, I loooove the sauce that comes with the dish. It’s like a cross between ketchup and A1 steak sauce. I like it so much that I even have a bottle of the stuff in my frig that I got from a Japanese grocery store. I use it when I make pork chops.

But since I’m testing the recipe, I started out putting all the ingredients in a small saucepan: ketchup (told you), apple butter (my first time using this stuff), Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, Dijon mustard, and rice vinegar.

You just warm it up and blend everything together. The recipe didn’t say for how long, but since none of the ingredients are raw, I just cooked it long enough so everything could blend together. This is how it looked – a bit lighter than the sauce I typically see.

The pork needed to be pounded into 1/2-inch thickness. But I was too lazy for that, so I just bought the thin-sliced boneless pork pieces at my local Safeway.

Then the pork cutlets are pan-fried with a bit of oil in a pan. The dredging technique is pretty basic: start with dipping in flour, then egg whites, and finally the Japanese bread crumbs known as panko (which isn’t actually made from bread but works the same way).

Unfortunately, I followed the instructions for browning and for some reason the panko didn’t seem to brown evenly, probably because it was not immersed in hot oil. So the pork tonkatsu looked a bit sickly in a weird white-and-brown spotted way.

When I was doing frying up my pork tonkatsu, I served it up with some steamed rice and sautéed asparagus since that’s in season (the recipe says spinach but I’m sure you can use any greens).

So here’s how it turned out. Yep, it doesn’t look like how I remembered pork tonkatsu in Hawaii.

My tips and warnings about this recipe:

  1. I think 1/4-inch thickness is better than 1/2-inch. The thinner the pork, the quicker it’ll cook and less time sitting in oil.
  2. Even though I don’t like submerging food in oil, if you want golden brown, you’re going to have to use more than the amount I used, which was about two tablespoons but now I see the recipe called for 1/4 cup canola oil. Not sure if that will make a difference.
  3. Use less apple butter to avoid your tonkatsu sauce tasting like apple sauce.
Ease of cooking: This is super easy because you just mix together the sauce and for the pork it’s just dredging and frying. It’s really simple, but a bit messy, which is another reason why I don’t fry foods that often having to create that dredging station of three plates which each dipping ingredient.

Taste: The pork with its pale panko crust was tasteless. This even after I seasoned the pork with some salt. I guess the taste is supposed to be helped by the sauce, but my sauce tasted mostly like apple sauce and wasn’t as silky and thick like the store-bought version I had already (and ended up using to finish off my pork).

Overall grade: D- because it wasn’t very tasty, not a fan of the sauce and it wasn’t golden brown. (I would have given the recipe an F but then realize it was partly my fault for not adding enough oil to pan fry this thing.)

Don’t forget to vote in the poll on the upper right-hand column to let me know which recipe I should test from the pages of the April edition of Food and Wine.

Previous test kitchens:
Winter Vegetable Chili
Penne Rigate with Spicy Braised Swordfish
Five-spice Glazed Sweet Potatoes and Walnut Toffee
Smoky Shrimp and Chorizo Soup


agent713 said...

I don't think that's the one I voted for but it's interesting none-the-less. You definitely plated it well :)

I have to ask though, how's your fridge looking these days? This recipe seems to call for a lot of things that I don't keep on hand and I can't help but wonder if you're accumulating a bunch of stuff that was used for specific recipes...

FoodTherapy4Me said...

Haven't tried that one yet, but you're finished dish looks great!

I am a big F&W fan, what held my attention for that issues was the low-fat chowder -

Hungry Dog said...

Wow, sorry this one was such a dud! Thanks for trying it for me, otherwise I'm sure I would have given it a go! I have that same trouble with panko gets browned/blackened unevenly. And I have to say the apple butter seems weird. But hey, you tried! nicely plated too.

Mrs. L said...

Is apple butter a standard when making this dish or just and F&W bit? Or is it just me that any pork tonkatsu I've tried didn't taste like apples?

Single Guy Ben said...

Agent713, my frig is filling up with bottles and jars, mostly of things people give me. I have to look in my frig soon for a post. ;-)

HD/Mrs. L, apple butter is weird, and not sure why it's called that. So happens I got a bottle for Christmas, and it's kind of like apple sauce. Not sure if it's always in tonkatsu sauce. I just checked my store-bought bottle and it includes apple "puree" AND apricot puree. Of course, it also contains fructose corn syrup. Yikes, never. check. bottle. ingredients. again. :)

Anonymous said...

to make a better tasting TONKATSU: season the pork with salt and pepper. Then prepare 3 shallow bowls or pans with the following: one with flour, one with beaten egg and 1 T of water, the last one with panko breadcrumbs.
Take the seasoned pork cutlet and cover in flour. Pat off the excess, then dip into beaten egg. (The flour makes the egg stick.) Then dip it into the panko crumbs. Deep fry it. I fry it for 3 minutes on one side, then turn it over in the hot oil and fry another 3 minutes. Remove from fryer,let it rest on wire rack. (But it's a good idea to use a meat thermometer to check its internal temp. to make sure it's safe.Check out USDA-FSIS website for temps.) Happy eating!