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Practicing the basics: katsu chicken

“Katsu” is in essence breaded, fried meat. It was added to the repertoire of Japanese cuisine in the 1800s, allegedly by a chef trying to add more European-style fare to his menu. The most traditional version is tonkatsu, which is made from pork, but chicken katsu is also extremely popular. In restaurants you can find katsu pork or chicken served over rice, in a bento box, or as a standalone entree. The breaded, fried meat part of this dish is really no different from what you might find in a chicken parmesan recipe; what makes chicken katsu different is the sauce that it’s typically served with.

The sauce, often referred to as “tonkatsu sauce,” is a tangy mix of soy sauce, ketchup, ginger and garlic, with some sugar and sweet Japanese wine to balance it out. There is no single definitive recipe for tonkatsu sauce; you can start with the one below and adjust it to meet your preferences.

Suggested reading:

Makes above 4 servings. Time required: about 40 minutes.

Ingredients:

For the chicken:

  • 4 thin-cut chicken breast cutlets
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup Panko bread crumbs
  • Neutral cooking oil (such as canola or peanut)

For the sauce:

  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon Mirin
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon grated ginger root
  • 1 clove garlic, minced

Remove chicken cutlets from the refrigerator and lay out on a plate or baking sheet lines with paper towels. Pat completely dry. Allow to sit for 20 minutes to start to come up to room temperature. Patting the cutlets dry will help the breading to stay attached; any water underneath the breading will turn to steam and loosen the breading.

Pour flour into a wide, flat bowl, pour the panko into another wide, flat bowl. Beat the eggs until mixing freely, and place in a third bowl. This is a classic breading setup: undercoat, egg, bread crumbs.

A basic breading station. From right to left: flour, egg, panko bread crumbs.

One at a time, dip the chicken cutlets into the flour, then the egg, then the panko, ensuring that each layer thoroughly covers the cutlet. Lay them out on a plate and let sit for ten minutes. In the meantime, pour the oil into a a deep skillet until it’s about 1/2 an inch deep, and preheat over medium-high heat. Letting the breaded cutlets sit allows the breading to form a better attachment to the chicken.

Place the cutlets in the pan and cook until thoroughly browned on each side, about 3 minutes per side. Try to minimize how much you handle the cutlets, as handling them runs the risk of knocking off some of the breading.

Remove the cutlets from the pan and set on a paper-towel-lined plate or tray. With a paper towel, pat the tops to remove any excess oil on top.

Make the sauce by combining all of the ingredients and whisking for 30-60 seconds until they are well combined. Season to taste. Yeah, this is a ridiculously easy sauce to make.

When ready to serve, move each cutlet to a cutting board, and cut it into slices, 1/2 to inch in width. Move the slices to a plate and drizzle the sauce on top.

Tips and suggestions:

  • Katsu chicken (and pork) is often served with a bowl of tonkatsu sauce for additional dipping.
  • There is plenty of room for customizing the tonkatsu sauce. The ketchup is the base, but everything else is flavoring (sweet, spicy, savory) and the amounts of each can be adjusted until you find the flavor balance you’re looking for.

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