This food hack was originally posted on July 30, 2013, but was re-published with a video.
Much of the katsu I’ve had in my life, prior to Yabu, was served in styrofoam bowls from the school cafeteria. I’d also have them in random Japanese restaurants, but the experience was always underwhelming. Dry and flavorless, katsu was a chore to eat and a last resort whenever I wanted something safe but filling.
Then, Yabu came into the picture and they gave everyone an ass-kicking. Suddenly, there was a new standard for katsu. It was tender, moist, and fluffy. Although it wasn’t as life-changing as when I had my first bite of bacon, Yabu’s katsu was a quantum leap ahead of any I’ve tried before.
Based on the long lines of people always in wait outside the restaurant, everyone seems to have noticed the same thing. Finally, the long-awaited katsu messiah has come to deliver us from the evils of fried pork mediocrity.
Today, we’ll bring that blessing from the restaurant to your home.
Let’s first establish our goals by outlining what makes Yabu’s (or Saboten’s) katsu special. From what I observed, these are:
A fluffy, golden exterior
A really thick cut of pork
The overall experience: grinding sesame seeds, pouring your own salad dressing, and bottomless miso soup
For this food hack, we’ll focus on the actual meat. It’s the most crucial part and it’s really all you need if you want to to do this successfully.
First, let’s take a look at Yabu’s menu.
There are two options for katsu: rosu and hire. Since there’s a good chance that your (confused) server babbled something about one being more fatty than the other, here’s a simple explanation. Rosu katsu is cut from the mildly flavoured, moderately tender pork loin with a layer of fat on one side. In contrast, hire katsu is made from the almost fat-less tenderloin and is leaner, softer, but less flavorful. (Trivia: Saboten uses similar cuts for their Katsu except that Yabu uses US pork and Saboten uses local ones.)
For this food hack, we’ll go with rosu katsu.
The quest for the perfect DIY katsu starts with a visit to the butcher. Because our local meatshops insist on chopping up meat in gnomish sizes, you won’t be able to find the katsu cut you need without making a special request.
When you arrive at the butcher’s counter, you’ll notice that they’re selling two types (others have more) of pork loin, center-cut bone-in pork loin (locally called pork chops) and boneless loin. Since katsu doesn’t traditionally come with bone, choose the boneless version.
Now, here’s where you ask the butcher for a favor. Since most of the pork loin here is sold in relatively thin half-inch cuts, tell your meat man you want yours about 1.5 inches thick. Many butchers here don’t know what they’re doing and may suggest doing a butterfly cut or making it thinner, but I suggest you ignore their advice for your own good.
Don’t forget to select good pork. It’s a local myth that all pork is the same, but purchasing from a good supplier who feeds and handles their pigs better will offer superior flavor and texture. Like steaks, katsus are heavily dependent on the quality of meat you’ll be cooking with.
Once you have the meat, let’s move on to the bread crumbs, popularly known as panko.
Good katsu looks fluffy like a lush forest, while cheaper ones resemble flattened construction sites. The secret is in using fresh bread crumbs.
Fresh panko, as opposed to dried, still have the volume, texture, and expiry date of real bread. They need to be kept in the fridge. Using fresh crumbs for your katsu won’t dramatically change the taste, but it’ll give you the texture we’re aiming for.
The only problem with fresh panko is procuring them. They’re often out of stock and difficult to find. Still, try to look for them because they’re crucial for your bragging rights.
We bought our fresh bread crumbs from Asuka Japanese Grocery in Cartimar, Taft Avenue. But if it’s really out of stock, you can resort to using dry crumbs or you can make your own.
The last thing that you need to purchase is the tonkatsu sauce. Since we don’t have a working recipe for it for now, you can go ahead and grab the bottle with the Bulldog logo. While you’re at it, snag some black and white sesame seeds for authenticity.
Before we go to the actual recipe, let’s talk about the last noteworthy detail in making a Yabu rosu katsu: pounding.
When first attempting this food hack, I was guessing that maybe real katsu used a two-step process involving steaming/boiling before frying. Fortunately, I recalled our dinner in Ginza Bairin back in Tokyo, and their open kitchen clearly showed that the pork was fried straight out.
Trying to look for a clue, I went over to Yabu and bought myself a piece. Taking a bite, I noticed that the tenderness wasn’t natural—the pork felt slightly flaky and somewhat powdery, similar to how Taiwanese flat chicken steaks are. (Not that it ruined my meal.) Looking at the katsu closely, I observed that the pork’s muscle fibers were messed up, another indication of pounding.
Pounding offers two advantages in katsu. First, you can control the areas where you’ll be pounding, allowing yourself to evenly flatten the piece of pork so it takes a presentable, uniform shape. Second, it will tenderize the meat by breaking down the proteins. Just be careful. Pounding comes at the expense of altering the pork’s texture and too much can lead to a powdery pork cutlet.
Although I’m not certain that this is the same process that Yabu or Saboten follows when making their katsu, the end product was almost an exact replica. Try it out yourself.
From here, you can dive straight into the recipe and finally cook yourself legitimate tonkatsu. If it turns out well, take photos and brag below.
Yabu Rosu Katsu
Serves: 1 person
Active time: 15 mins
Total time: 15 mins
Special tools: Meat mallet, deep-frying thermometer, peeler
160g boneless pork loin (about 1.5 inches thick)
fresh panko/bread crumbs (you can use dry as a substitute)
salt & pepper
canola oil (or any neutral frying oil)
bottled sesame or ponzu dressing
Defrost the pork thoroughly.
Cover it with plastic wrap.
While covered, pound the pork with moderate intensity using the rough side of a meat mallet until it’s about ¾ inches thick.
After pounding, dispose of the plastic and dry the pork with paper towels on all sides.
Season with salt and pepper.
Dredge the pounded pork in flour, then eggs.
Coat liberally with fresh bread crumbs. Make sure to cover all corners.
Prepare the pan and heat frying oil to medium temperature or 325°F.
Deep-fry the pork for around 7 minutes while moderately flipping to cover both sides.
Carefully lift the pork from the pan and set aside on top of a strainer for two minutes.
Slice tonkatsu into 6 to 8 cuts depending on your preferred thickness.
Serve with salad, miso soup, tonkatsu sauce, and steamed rice.
To prepare the salad, shred cabbage with a regular vegetable peeler.
Dress it with either ponzu or sesame.
Pounding: When a meat mallet comes in straight contact with a piece of meat, it tends to stick to the surface. The purpose of the plastic wrap is to protect the surface of the pork from getting destroyed.
Temperature: Make sure to keep the temperature at medium because the bread crumbs burn very quickly. You have been warned.
Selecting a pan: Get a pan that’s deep enough to ensure that the pork doesn’t come in contact with the bottom because that will flatten one side of the tonkatsu. If you want a perfectly fluffy katsu, make sure that the meat is floating while frying.
On doneness: Although medium pink pork is now okay, if you’re using local pork it’s still best to be safe.
Dry Panko: If you don’t have access to fresh crumbs, one tip I read online was to rehydrate dry ones by lightly wetting them. I’ve never tried this before but it might be worth a shot.
Sourcing stuff: You can buy all the Japanese looking stuff in Japanese groceries such as New Hatchin in Makati, Malate, or Cartimar. The Bulldog Tonkatsu sauce and the sesame dressing are available in all Japanese groceries.