How to Fry Right: Tonkatsu, Picking the Right Pig for the Job 

Plus, notes on panko breadcrumbs and shaking your cutlet

Wednesday, May 6 2009

Dear Mr. Gold:

I lovetonkatsu, the little fried pork cutlets that they serve in Japanese restaurants, but I can never quite figure out how to make them in my apartment kitchen — it always turns out too rubbery, or too hard, or not really crunchy. I have no objection to visiting Suehiro and Hurry Curry until the end of days, but it does seem like something I should be able to do on my own. Is there a special kind of meat involved?

—Licia, L.A.

Location Info

Dear Licia:

Are you rolling the cutlets in flour, dipping them in beaten egg and pressing them into a plate of panko, the jagged Japanese breadcrumbs specifically designed for the process, and remembering to shake off the excess at every point along the way? Are you frying them in at least half an inch of clean oil heated just below the smoking point? Are you draining them on a rack, or at least a brown paper bag, so that they don’t steam the way that they do when you let them rest on paper towels? I always find that the best version is made with the pork marked “tonkatsu”: thinnish slices of loin with healthy ribbons of fat along the trailing edges, often cut from the kurobota, née Berkshire, pigs whose meat has both the marbling and the density to stand up to quick frying. (Factory-farm pork is not only morally dubious, but tends to be too watery for this use.) You can find tonkatsu pork in pretty much any Japanese market, including the mammoth Marukai supermarkets in Gardena and Torrance, but lately I’ve been visiting the Westside Mitsuwa, where you can grab a bowl of Santouka ramen before you shop, choose among a zillion brands of Japanese ice tea, and find the necessary panko in both fine-milled and rough-milled versions. When you buy your pork, the cashier will usually throw in a packet or two of tonkatsu sauce, and you don’t even have to ask.

Mitsuwa, Santouka: 3760 S. Centinela Blvd., W.L.A., (310) 398-2113 or www.mitsuwa.com.

Santouka: (310) 398-2113 or www.santouka.co.jp.

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