The first thing I ask a person upon meeting them is what’s your favorite meal and what’s your favorite pie. I’m not proud of this. I’m not proud of this because, for me, this would be an impossible line of questioning. It’d be right up there with what’s your favorite movie or your favorite song. How the hell could anyone narrow cinema and music down to a pat response? But still, I ask. Not because I wish to be annoying but because I like to make people happy. If I ever ask you either of these questions, it means I’m a fan. I asked Bae both of these questions shortly after meeting him and he answered without hesitation – tonkatsu. Ever since then, I’ve been finding ways to sneak the treat onto our dinner table whenever I can. Today’s Tonkatsu Sandos is just my most recent effort.Jump to Recipe
Katsu sandos are a funny thing. I’m not sure when I became aware of them. They seemed to have crept into my consciousness so gradually that I just sort of knew what they were despite never having eaten one. They are currently enjoying a spell of global fascination, so I suppose it all makes sense. Instagram is lousy with them and everything I find mildly interesting on Instagram finds a way of taking root in my brain. I should probably be disturbed by this and yet I just keep scrolling.
The sando world doesn’t start and end with the Tonkatsu Sando. There are numerous variations, including a waygu beef situation that seems a bit excessive and, well, expensive. In their purest form, a katsu sando is meant to be a convenient snack. Something to soak up beer at a bar or placate hunger at a gas station. The katsu sando is the Japanese version of Americana, complete with the pillowy white sandwich bread called shokupan – the Japanese version of Wonderbread.
The shokupan you see wrapped around these Tonkatsu Sandos is not homemade. Yes, I am aware that this is unusual. I generally take it a little too far when it comes to making things from scratch, but I let myself off the hook, just this once. Mostly because some things, like white sandwich bread, are better left to the assembly line where they have the characteristics of such an item down to a literal science. Could I have made the bread myself? Yes, of course. There is a multitude of recipes available on the Internet. Martha herself has one. But when trashiness is central to the charm of a particular meal, I say don’t over think it.
The part I did overthink (it is me after all) was the tonkatsu itself. I have, of course, made tonkatsu several times in the past and each time I found myself a little let down by pork cutlet itself. The frying seems to be the culprit. Does the oil give the exterior of the pork a crisp golden coat? Yes. But does getting the crust to the height of it’s perfection often result in a dry pork cutlet? Sadly, yes. So, how to combat this? Easy! It’s time to brine.
Making a brine is dead simple. It’s basically a quart of water, a bit of salt and a bit of sugar. You can get as creative as you like with aromatics and fruit and what not but water, sugar, and salt will take you where you want to go. For the Tonkatsu Sandos, I settled on a brine flavored with allspice, dried chilies, clementine, ginger, cinnamon, and lime. Not only did the overnight brining process eliminate my dry pork woes,
And finally cabbage. Yep, just cabbage. Now, before you accuse me of copping-out once again, let me assure you it’s completely authentic to leave the cabbage naked. The cabbage is supposed to act as a palette cleanser. A neutral crunch designed to cut through the richness of the fried meat. Honestly, when you tear into this mayo-riddled fried pork monstrosity, you’ll be glad your old friend cabbage is there. Just stuff it in there and enjoy a wee hint of green. Honestly, even if you hate cabbage most of the time, you’ll appreciate it here.
Another potential cop-out? The bottled katsu sauce. But, like the cabbage, there is some sound reasoning behind this decision. As I am no katsu expert, I turned to the Internet for guidance. And when it came to the all-important sauce, countless sources told me I was better off buying the stuff because it’s easy, delicious and difficult to improve upon. I took this to mean that katsu sauce is a lot like ketchup. You can make gourmet ketchup but it will never be as good as the bottled stuff. Real talk, gourmet ketchup is no substitute for the real deal. Everyone should stop trying.
So, with packaged katsu sauce, bottled kewpie mayo, and bread fresh(ish) from an Asian bakery, these Tonkatsu Sandos turned out to be a walk in the park. Aside from the brining time, which required no effort on my part, and a bit of hot oil, assembling these bad boys was as simple as making a regular ol’ ham and swiss. But did they taste like a regular sandwich? Oh, hell to the no! These are next level delicious. These Tonkatsu Sandos are without a doubt dinnertime material. Honestly, I would serve these to guests and I’m willing to bet they would worship me for it. The guests, not the sandwiches…
So, that’s everything you need to know about these Tonkatsu Sandos. They’re definitely worth the little effort they require. You just have to promise to eat them with a side of trashy potato chips and cheap beer.
Tonkatsu Sandos with Shaved Cabbage
- 4 cups water
- 3 tbsp sugar
- 2 tbsp kosher salt
- 1 clementine
- 1 lime
- 4 cloves garlic smashed
- 2 dried chilies
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 1 tsp whole allspice berries
- 4 boneless loin pork chops
- 2 eggs beaten
- 1 1/2 cups panko bread crumbs
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 cup canola oil
- 8 slices shokupan or white sandwich bread lightly toasted
- 1/2 head cabbage sliced thin
- kewpie mayo
- katsu sauce
- Pour the water, sugar and kosher salt into a saucepan. Slice the clementine in half and squeeze the juice into the water mixture. Drop the rind into the saucepan. Repeat with the lime.
- Add the garlic, cinnamon sticks, chilies, and allspice berries to the pot and place over high heat. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Let simmer for 15 minutes. Take the brine off of the heat and let cool completely.
- Place the pork chops in a large bowl and pour the cooled brine over top. Cover and transfer to the fridge. Leave the pork chops to brine for at least 8 hours or overnight.
- Take the pork chops out of the brine and pat them dry with paper towels. Place the chops between two pieces of parchment paper. Using a meat mallet, pound the chops until flattened. Set aside.
- In a wide shallow bowl, whisk to combine the panko crumbs and the salt. Dip the pork chops in the eggs until completely coated. Place the chops in the panko mixture and dredge until fully encrusted. Set aside.
- Heat the oil in a large skillet until shimmering. Add the pork chops, 2 at a time, and fry on both sides until golden. About 5 minutes a side. Transfer the finished chops to a plate lined with paper towel and repeat with the remaining two chops.
- To build the sandwiches, squirt kewpie mayo on two pieces of shokupan. Cover one piece with the shredded cabbage and place a piece of tonkatsu on top. Drizzle the surface of the tonkatsu with katsu sauce and place the other piece of shokupan on top. Cut the sandwich in half and repeat with the remaining pieces of tonkatsu and pieces of bread.
- When all the sandwiches are assembled, serve immediately with a round of cold beer.