I should probably apologize to some of our readers out there. In one of my last posts, I briefly mentioned that during the summer of 1994, after reading Banana Yoshimoto’s Kitchen, I was inspired to spend several weeks searching for the very best katsudon in Paris (where I was living at the time). While this little factoid was just a (very) small and tangential part of a much larger post, I think it got many readers pretty excited. Several people left comments on this blog and emailed me asking where, in fact, was the best katsudon in Paris to be found. Unfortunately, I don’t really have an answer. Firstly, that was 13 years ago and I really can’t remember which restaurants I went to back then. I have to admit that my search wasn’t entirely systematic either. It was more like, “oh ho… another Japanese restaurant. Okay, let’s see how good their katsudon is!” Secondly, while a couple versions were not bad, none of them blew my mind, i.e. none were so outstanding that I would have taken note of the name of the restaurant. So, to those friends and readers hoping to gobble some yummy katsudon in the City of Lights, I apologize for getting your hopes up.
That said, I’m not surprised by the excitement generated by this wonderful dish. Even before I read those gorgeous and inspiring passages in Kitchen, I was a huge katsudon fan. In fact, for a couple of my childhood years, it was the only thing I would (or really wanted to) eat in a Japanese restaurant. (That was before I discovered, or rather tasted, sushi.) Even today, a good katsudon is one of my favourite lunches. And before local friends and readers ask me where the best one in town is, I’ll say that I don’t know that either. I personally enjoy the version served at Tomton, which is in the basement of Liang Court and part of Meidi-ya (there is also a branch at Central, but I haven’t been there yet).
To make ammends to new-found friends who got a tad excited by my mention of this super-yummy fried pork, eggs, onions and rice dish, S and I would like to share our favourite recipe for making it. Our’s is a variation of the recipe you’ll find in Shizuo Tsuji’s Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art, which is a great book that anyone looking to cook Japanese at home should pick up. While the recipe is simple, it is also a tad fiddly. You need to cook the pork first, set it aside (over hot rice), and then cook the egg-broth mixture which is poured over the pork and rice. Done well, there are few dishes that are as comforting and as satisfying. The secret, S and I have realized, is cooking the egg-broth mixture so that it’s only half set. That way, when you pour it over the pork and rice, a good portion of the liquid runs through and flavours the rice.
1½ cups Japanese short-grain rice (more if you prefer to have more rice)
2 pork loin cutlets, roughly 180grams each (they are often labeled tonkatsu cuts in Japanese supermarkets, look for pieces with nice fat marbling)
1 tablespoon light Japanese soy sauce (optional)
1 tablespoon mirin (optional)
2 shiso leaves, julienned (optional)
salt and pepper
6 tablespoons cornflour (cornstarch)
1 egg, beaten
2 cups panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
oil for deep-frying
onion and egg topping
1¼ cups dashi
3½ tablespoons mirin
1½ tablespoons light Japanese soy sauce
1½ tablespoons dark Japanese soy sauce
½ medium onion, peeled and sliced into rings or crescents
1 tablespoon oil
2 spring onions (preferably Japanese), cut into 4-cm lengths
4 eggs, beaten
Wash the rice 30 minutes to an hour before you intend to cook it and let it drain in a colander. You can either prepare the rice in a rice cooker (follow the instructions in your manual) or boil it in a heavy-based pot. Cooking rice in a pot requires a little practice. Use a pot that isn’t too large or too small for the quantity of rice you intend to cook. Pour enough water to cover the rice by around 2½cm (1 inch). Cover the pot with a tightly-fitted lid and place it over medium-high heat until the water boils. Then turn the heat up and let the water come to a vigorous boil (the lid should bounce from the pressure of the steam). A white, starchy liquid will bubble from under the pot lid. When this bubbling ceases, reduce the heat to low and cook until all the liquid is absorbed by the rice. Do not lift the cover off the pot as the rice cooks.
Once all the liquid is absorbed, turn off the heat (do not remove the pot from the burner) and let the rice stand, covered, for 15 to 20 minutes before you fluff it with a wooden paddle or spoon. Ideally, stretch a kitchen towel over the pot lid (over the bit that sits over the rice) and return the lid to the pot. This prevents moisture from dripping back onto the rice. Set it aside until you’re ready to serve it.
We like to marinate the pork cutlets with soy, mirin and shiso. Alternatively you can just salt and pepper both sides of the pork. We leave our pork to marinate in the soy, mirin and shiso for around 30 minutes. Pat the cutlets dry with paper towels before pounding them with a mallet (we find it handy to cover the pork with a layer of clingfilm before doing this). Dust with cornflour, dip in beaten egg and coat both sides thickly with panko. Let the prepared cutlets rest for 2 to 3 minutes before you fry them.
Heat a generous amount of oil (we use corn oil) in a heavy-bottomed pan to medium temperature (170 degrees Celsius/340 degrees Fahrenheit) and deep-fry cutlets one at a time, turning once, until golden brown (approximately 4-6 minutes each). Remove, drain on absorbent paper and cut crosswise into 1½ cm (½ inch) slices.
Divide the rice between two bowls. Top each bowl of rice with a portion of sliced cutlet.
Combine the dashi, mirin and soy sauces. Heat ½tablespoon oil in a small frying pan (if you can find the round pans with the upturned handles, which are made specially for donburi dishes, by all means buy one) and sauté half of the prepared onion slices/rings over high heat until they become translucent. Add half the dashi-mirin-soy mixture and bring to a simmer. Add half the spring onions. Finally, pour half of the beaten eggs over the simmering onions (pour in a circular motion so that the egg is evenly distributed). Stir when the eggs begin to set. The topping is done when the eggs are still runny. (You want some of the liquid to seep into the rice.) Cover one bowl of rice with this egg and onion topping. Repeat with remaining ingredients and top the second bowl of rice. Serve immediately.