Recipe: Beer and Hammer Tonkatsu (돈까스)

My mother makes some of the best Korean foods but oddly enough, many of my childhood favorite comfort foods from her are non-Korean dishes including lasagna, taco salad, and tonkatsu.

Tonkatsu originated in Japan back in the 19th century when European dishes were becoming popular there and even off shooting a new branch of cuisine called Yoshoku (or "yang shik" 양식 in Korean). These dishes in Japanese cuisine include omurice, hayashi, croquette (korokke), and of course, tonkatsu. I'm not certain on this but I would theorize that Japanese tonkatsu traces its lineage back to the European schnitzel. In any case, tonkatsu then eventually made its way to Korea where its become a fan favorite since for everyone from school children to office workers

Even my fond childhood memories of tonkatsu recalls my mother carefully prepping and dredging the pieces of meat as the pot of oil would heat up on a portable burner on our patio outside. She would then take the cutlets outside and close the sliding glass patio door, so not to cause our house to smell, and I would hear the snapping and sizzling of the cutlets heating up. I always looked forward to seeing what shape cutlet would come out on my plate and I remember being ecstatic one time as my cutlet came out looking like the shape of Australia- just as my second grade class was learning about the land down under. Oddly, I always reached for ketchup with my tonkatsu and not the thick, brown, tonkatsu sauce and it's still my preference today.

I'd never attempted making tonkatsu until recently when I came across an evening Korean program in which the show was taught the secrets of making a flawless tonkatsu from a mega-hit tonkatsu shop in Seoul.

I experimented around with the instructions and was more than pleased with the results. The pork came out tender and still juicy while the exterior had a wonderful golden crunch from the breading that had come out beautifully. Part of the secret for the tonkatsu lies in two seemingly odd objects here- beer and a hammer- which is why I call this beer and hammer tonkatsu. You'll find that these two things, along with the tasty tonkatsu results, play a part in making the whole experience a stress reliever.

Read on for the full instructions with tips!

Tonkatsu (돈까스)
Makes 4 cutlets

You'll need:
- 4 pieces of either Pork Tenderloin or Pork Chops, each about 250-280 grams
- Few teaspoons of Minced Garlic (or 1-2 tablespoons of Garlic Powder)
- 1 can of Beer (can be a cheap kind and you'll only be using a few tablespoons at most from it)
- Salt and Pepper
- Plenty of Oil suitable for frying (canola, peanut, etc)
- 1 Hammer, rolling pin, or any heavy and durable object that can be pounded without breaking (obviously this is not going into the tonkatsu nor is it intended to be consumed in anyway...)
- 3-4 cups of Panko (or Breadcrumbs suitable for frying)

For dredging and coating:
- 2 Egg Whites
- 2 tbsp of Flour (or Korean Frying Powder)
- 2 tbsp of Starch powder (can be corn, potato, etc)
- 6 tbsp of cold Water

1. You want to begin by tenderizing the meat. Lay the pork pieces between sheets of butchers paper and take your hammer (or other heavy object) and begin whacking around, and between, each of the pork slabs. You don't need to use a whole lot of force but enough to get the pork slabs to about a 1/4" in thickness (about the thickness of your thumb). This is especially a fun step to do on a stressful day as you take your hammer and whack away your frustrations... 

2. Have a large flat plate on hand and for each cutlet add a sprinkle of salt and pepper, a bit of minced garlic, and just a few drops of the beer on both sides (rubbing a bit of all the seasonings into the meat) before laying on the plate. The beer is the secret to help further tenderize the meat as well as eliminate gamy smells from the pork. The tonkatsu restaurant that was interviewed in the show I mentioned even had beer in a spray bottle on hand to evenly spray the beer onto the cutlets. But you can just carefully add a few drops from your can. Then just swig and enjoy the rest of the beer during the cooking process. :) Let the pork marinate for a minimum of 10-15 minutes. 

3. While you're waiting on the pork , get the dredging and coating ready. In a large bowl mix the egg whites, flour, starch powder, and water until you get a white, slightly pancake batter-like consistency coating. Pour out the panko in a separate bowl. 
Note: While most tonkatsu recipes uses a simple coating batter of flour/frying powder and water, the addition of the egg whites and starch powder will help make the batter stick better to the meat, which in turn helps the panko/breadcrumbs stick better to the batter. A more consistent coating and dredging will not only ensure a more even crunchy exterior but it also helps lock in the moisture of the meat during cooking so your end results isn't a dry piece of meat. 

4. One-by-one, take a pork slab and dip it first into the coating (making sure all of the meat is coated) and let most of the excess coating drip off the meat and into the bowl. Then, place the coated meat into the panko, making sure to press the panko into the meat to make sure the entire cutlet is breaded. Place the coated and breaded cutlet back onto the plate and repeat this process until all the cutlets are ready.

5. In a deep pot or pan that's suitable for frying, fill with enough oil that the cutlets will be all or mostly covered by the oil. Heat the oil on medium heat until it reaches a temperature of 168 degrees Celsius. If you don't have a thermometer to check, take a long piece of chopstick (such as the ones used for frying) and dip into the oil. If it bubbles when you stick it in, the oil will be in the 160-180 degrees Celsius range and good to go. 

6. Carefully place the cutlets into the heated oil making sure the cutlets don't touch and have plenty of room. Depending on the size of the pot/pan you're using you may have to fry the cutlets in batches like I did. The cutlets fry up fast and visibly browns quickly. The cooking time for each cutlet shouldn't take more than 3 minutes. Carefully turn over the cutlet once around the 1.5-2 minute mark. 

7. When the cutlets are almost finished frying (approximately 30 seconds before being finished) take your chopsticks and carefully punch just a few holes through the cutlet. This action releases any built up steam inside as well as any lingering gamy smell. When both sides are golden-brown and finished cooking take the finished cutlet out and hold it over the oil for a few seconds to let any of the excess oil drip off back into your pot. Then place the finished cutlet on a new plate that's been lined with a few sheets of paper towel. Repeat the frying process with the rest of your cutlets until they're all cooked.

8. Let the cutlets cool a few minutes. Then cut the cutlets you'll eat for your meal into 1/2" thick slices and arrange on a plate. Serve with hot rice, pickled vegetables (or kimchi ^^), and tonkatsu sauce (or your favorite condiment) on the side. You can also serve it with a simple salad of shredded cabbage and dressing on the side (usually Thousand Island) to make it more tonkatsu meal style.

Itadakimasu! 잘 먹겠습니다~!

Be on the lookout next for a recipe for simple but so delicious Katsudon!