Believe it or not, the most popular meat In Japan is not fish or beef, but pork and the most popular pork dish is a deep-fried pork cutlet called Tonkatsu.
If there is one dish that managed to spread the popularity of pork more than any other, it’s tonkatsu — akin to European dishes such as schnitzel. The name itself combines the Japanese word for pig — ton — with a shortened version of the English word “cutlet” (via the Japanese pronunciation).
The pork version of Tonkatsu was invented in Japan in 1899 at a restaurant called Rengatei in Tokyo. It was originally considered a type of yōshoku — Japanese versions of European cuisine invented in the late 19th and early 20th centuries — and was called katsuretsu (cutlet) or simply katsu. The term “tonkatsu” (pork katsu) was coined in the 1930s.
As noted in an excellent article that appeared in the Japan Times:
Unlike curry rice and other yōshoku or Western-influenced Japanese dishes that evolved during the late 19th to mid 20th century, tonkatsu was embraced by more traditionally Japanese eateries such as soba restaurants, which were losing business to newfangled European-style restaurants. They saw tonkatsu as something they could make cheaply and easily that was substantial and filling.
Several dedicated tonkatsu restaurants cropped up around the 1920s to ’40s, with even more opening in the ’50s and ’60s, after World War II — the big boom period for tonkatsu. Several still thrive, such as Ginza Bairin (established in 1927, and now with branches in Hong Kong, Singapore and Hawaii) and Maisen in Aoyama (founded in 1965 by one woman, and now one of the largest sellers of ready-made tonkatsu products nationwide).
During the Great Depression of the 1930s, a piece of tonkatsu, which could be bought freshly cooked from the butcher, became the ultimate affordable payday treat for the poor working class. The position of tonkatsu as everyman food was firmly established.
A basic tonkatsu is served whole or sliced for easy eating with chopsticks, usually with a mound of finely shredded raw cabbage. The thick brown sauce (known simply as “sauce”) that usually accompanies tonkatsu today evolved from the British Worcestershire sauce, and is made in a similar way by blending various fruit and vegetables with salt, vinegar and spices and then letting it age.
…and now we get to the heart of the matter. 🙂
Tonkatsu sauce is considered a top-secret recipe by the finest Tonkatsu restaurants, all use their own version of a sweet/spicy/sour sauce as their own. These recipes are literally passed on during the deathbed conversation of the master chef to his apprentice and/or locked away in a vault, safe from prying eyes.
Most Tonkatsu sauce recipes made public call for only a few ingredients – ketchup, Worcestershire, soy sauce and vinegar. These are travesties that in no way represent the true glory and complexity of the secret sauces served in the best restaurants.
I will now blow the doors off the vault for the true sauce in a victory for all TFD Citizens! This is how you make the finest Tonkatsu sauce you’ll ever try: my own. 🙂
Tomorrow, I will tell you how to make Tonkatsu itself – until then, Citizens!
Battle on – The Generalissimo
5 tbsp Sugar
5 tbsp Water
5 tbsp Boiling water
1 Apple (grated or pureed in a food processor)
½ Korean pear apple (or use a pear if unavailable) (grated or pureed in a food processor)
½ Onion (grated or pureed in a food processor)
3 cloves garlic, microplaned or grated
1 tablespoon ginger purée
1 Bay leaf
100 ml Tomato juice
50 ml Red wine
50 ml mirin
3 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp Oyster sauce
1 tbsp Soy sauce
1 tbsp Sesame paste
½ tsp Jane’s Krazy Salt
1 dash Nutmeg
1 dash Pepper
1 tbsp Lemon juice
1 tbsp Rice Vinegar
1 tbsp strong mustard
1 tsp Katakuriko or cornstarch
2 tbsp Water
Combine the sugar and water in a heavy pot or deep pan. Cook over medium heat for about 3 minutes until it starts to smoke.
When the pan is smoking, count to 5 and then turn off the heat (the aim is to make a caramel that’s a bit darker than the caramel sauce for custard pudding or flan.)
Add boiling water to the pan, taking care not to burn yourself. Set the heat to low, and stir to dissolve the caramel in the water. Scrape off any burned bits and dissolve.
Add the grated or pureed apple, pear, garlic, ginger and onion, plus the bay leaf to the pan and mix well. Simmer over low heat for 10 minutes.
Add tomato juice to the pan, cover with a lid and simmer for 10 minutes over low heat.
Add the wine, sesame paste, soy sauce, Krazy Salt, nutmeg and pepper to the pan, and simmer for 30 minutes over low heat. Cool down the sauce a little and add the mustard, vinegar and lemon juice. Stir to combine thoroughly.
Leave the pan to rest overnight at room temperature (cool it down and refrigerate). Strain the contents into a smaller pan through a clean gauze or cheesecloth.
Simmer the strained sauce over low heat. Add the katakuriko dissolved in water, stir until thickened, and leave to cool.
Pour the cooled sauce into containers or bottles, and seal tightly. Leave to rest in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days, and it’s done.
This sauce has no preservatives, so store it in the refrigerator and use up within a month.