A Taste of Japan - Katsu

If you have been reading our Stocking a Japanese Pantry series, you may have stocked up your kitchen with tasty ingredients but are now wondering what on earth to do with them. When it comes to learning about Japanese cuisine, one of the most important things to do is to familiarise yourself with some of the most famous recipes.

In this series, we will be looking at several Japanese recipes that are easy to make and a delicious treat! This time, the dish of the day will be Katsu.

Table of contents


What Is Katsu?

If you've ever eaten in a Japanese restaurant, you will definitely have seen Katsu on the menu. Many would agree that katsu curry is the definition of comfort food in Japan. It’s hearty, warming and super delicious. Katsu is made with meat that is covered in panko bread crumbs. While chicken is the most common, pork is sometimes used and there are other varieties, but this is something we will look at later on. It is served with rice and a Japanese curry sauce.

What’s funny is that while it does have some resemblance to Indian curry, it also closely resembles the schnitzel which is a European dish. If anything, it’s a real blend of cuisines. That said, katsu curry is nowhere near as hot or spicy as its Indian counterpart and has a far sweeter taste, which is likely why it has become a firm favourite for westerners who can’t handle the heat of an Indian dish.

Katsu sauce is made using caramelised onion, carrot and garlic as well as mild curry powder and soy sauce along with a little brown sugar.

What’s really surprising, however, is that while this is a Japanese dish, it was actually a result of the Brits visiting the country back in the 1800s. At this time, the British were ruling India, the home of curry. Then they headed to Japan with curried stew, and the rest is history. Of course, the Japanese put their own twist on the idea of curry and what we’re left with is katsu.

Nowadays, curry, in all its forms, is hugely popular across the world. You’ll find it in takeaways, restaurants and even street food vans. Plus, the number of curry recipes online means that domestic chefs are making more exotic dishes than ever. But the obvious difference between katsu and Indian or Thai curry is not only the sauce, but that breadcrumbed meat.


How Does Katsu Taste?

As we have already discovered, katsu is far less intense than curry that comes from other countries, like India. The flavour is far sweeter and much richer which is a result of the spices and ingredients used to make the sauce.

In katsu curry, you would use ingredients like onions, coconut milk, ginger and turmeric as well as copious amounts of garlic. In addition to this, katsu curry sauce contains soy sauce which gives that rich, saline flavour. It’s difficult to pinpoint an exact taste when it comes to katsu as the flavours are so diverse and blend together to create something altogether unique. One thing is always certain, - once you have tried it, you’ll likely come back for more!

As well as being deliciously tasty, katsu also has a moreish texture. This is to do with the breadcrumbs which make the meat nice and crisp. Pair this with the smoothness of the sauce and you’ve got something altogether delicious.


How to Make Katsu

Making katsu curry is incredibly easy and something that anyone with a love for Japanese cuisine should get under their belt. Here is a simple chicken katsu recipe that you can try tonight!

● Season some chicken (thighs are best as they’re juicier but you can use chicken breasts if you prefer) and lightly pound them to around half an inch.

● Now place some flour seasoned with salt and pepper, eggs and panko breadcrumbs onto individual plates and add a little salt to these. Ordinary breadcrumbs can be used but the panic crumbs ensure a truly crispy Japanese-style fried chicken finish.

● Cover each piece of chicken in flour (shaking off any excess flour), before dipping it into the egg mixture and finally coating in the panko crumbs. Press the breadcrumbs in to make sure they stick to the meat.


● Now put the flour, egg and panko-covered chicken onto a lined baking sheet.

● Once you have coated all of the chicken, you will need to add oil to two skillets and heat them up before putting the chicken in.

● Fry it over a medium heat for around three minutes on each side until golden brown or until fully cooked.

● It’s important to drain the chicken cutlets using a paper towel-lined plate before serving.


For the Sauce

Once your chicken is prepared, it’s time to make the curry with this sauce recipe. This sweet, delicious and moreish sauce can be achieved in just a few simple steps, and you’ll likely already have most of the ingredients in your kitchen cupboards.

● Start by frying some onions in vegetable oil for around eight minutes.

● Add in six cloves of garlic, stir and allow to cook for one to two minutes. It’s important to keep things moving to avoid the garlic burning.

● Now add one large, chopped carrot and allow to cook for a few additional minutes.

● Take some mild curry powder; around one tablespoon and add this into the mix. After a few minutes pop in three tablespoons of flour to thicken the mix.

● You will now need to add chicken stock but don’t do this all at once, make sure to add a little, stir and then repeat until you are happy with the consistency and there are no lumps from the flour.

● Leave the sauce to thicken on a simmer for around 15 minutes. Do keep your eye on it at all times.

● When the time is up, strain the sauce using a sieve and remove the carrots and onions. You can then whizz these up in the blender before adding them back to the sauce.

● Next, add a tablespoon of soy sauce along with some honey or sugar, as you prefer. If the sauce is a little too thick, feel free to add a little more water.

Serve the crispy chicken schnitzel on top of steamed rice, with a generous portion of the chicken katsu sauce and enjoy... You can freeze chicken katsu, but it's extremely unheard of to have any leftover to be able to freeze, as it's just so incredibly delicious! 


What Is Katsudon?

Once you have prepared your katsu, you may have some leftover chicken but there is something you can do with that. Or, if you prefer, you could simply make katsudon as your main dish.

Katsudon uses katsu that has first been simmered in a savoury broth along with egg and onions. It is served with rice, much like katsu curry but the key is to keep the chicken super crisp as it is the texture that really gives this dish its bite.


But Wait...There's More

As well as katsudon, there are a whole other host of varieties of katsu. If you’re learning how to cook traditional Japanese meals, it’s worth getting as many of these under your belt as possible.


Tonkatsu

As I mentioned earlier on, katsu can be made using pork but in this case, it is known as tonkatsu. While chicken is one of the most popular choices, there are a lot of people that solely associate katsu with pork.

What’s great is that you can make this type of katsu with various types of pork including loin or tenderloin. However, many would agree that the very best versions of tonkatsu are made with Japanese black Berkshire pork.

While there are a lot of ways to serve tonkatsu, one of the most popular is teishoku. This is a set meal that comes on a tray and includes tonkatsu along with rice and soup. You will also typically get some side dishes with your teishoku which may include things like shredded raw cabbage and lemon juice. Just don’t forget the tonkatsu sauce for that beautiful flavour.


Menchi Katsu

Another type of katsu known as menchi katsu is made using minced meat to create a patty which is then coated in panko breadcrumbs. Normally, this dish would be made with beef but it is possible to use minced pork, if you so wish.


Gyukatsu

If you’re a fan of beef then you may want to try gyukatsu which is made using steak instead of chicken or pork. The meat is coated in panko breadcrumbs in just the same way and is then fried. The way that this dish is cooked is often compared to the American chicken fried steak.


Salmon Katsu

Not a fan of meat? How about trying a fish version of katsu? Most commonly, chefs would use salmon which is hugely popular in Japan for many reasons. Although if you are ordering this version of katsu while in Japan, you might not immediately recognise it on the menu as it’s usually sold as salmon fry.


Unique Ways of Serving Katsu On the Go in Japan

If you are travelling around Japan or seeing the sights then you will almost certainly come across the bento box. These are pre-made food boxes that can be purchased from grocery stores, train stations, events, street food trucks and so many other places.

While there are other things served in bento boxes, katsu is a common choice. Along with this, you will normally get some rice and a variety of side dishes which might include pickles and salad.
When buying a bento box, you would usually get tonkatsu as opposed to chicken katsu.

The katsu sando is another great option when you’re on the go. This is essentially a katsu sandwich which is typically made using tonkatsu. It’s served on a type of white bread known as shokupan which has the crusts removed. It’s also not uncommon to see burgers featuring katsu being sold all around Japan.


Final Thoughts

One of the most well-loved Japanese dishes both in Japan itself and around the world is katsu. Often served with a katsu curry sauce, there are other variations on this dish so you’ll always find a way of serving it that pleases your palate.

This simple katsu curry recipe gives you an easy place to start experimenting with something that will soon become a favourite in your home!
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