A year ago, I studied abroad in China, one of the best experiences of my life. While I was at the Beijing Foreign Studies University, I discovered the beauty of simple Japanese fare. (Which is a euphemism for ‘I became slightly obsessed with it.’) Before going to China, I had associated Japanese food with sushi and teriyaki. Then I discovered Japanese curries. I still remember my order, tudou gali (土豆咖喱), a rich potato curry atop a fried potato cake with a bed of rice, served with miso soup. My friends and I went so often, I’m pretty sure we singlehandedly gave them enough revenue to get new fancy menus.
Oh ribenfanguan’r (日本饭馆儿), how I miss you. You carried me through many a torrential rainstorm, through midterms and finals and all the tests in between. I have never attempted the tudou gali because I prefer to just remember how wonderful it was. I still hold out hope that one day I will return and enjoy my potato curry again.
However, all the other curry dishes are fair game. Up today: katsudon. I absolutely loved zhupai jing (豬排丼) in China. Fried pork with a sweet yet savory sauce on a bed of rice…mmmmm. They also served it with a dollop of Japanese mayonnaise (Kewpie) that is infinitely better than American mayonnaise.
I also came to love how the Japanese cook their eggs, half-cooked and runny so that it sinks into the rice, flavoring the dish all the way to the bottom of the bowl.
I owe it to the ribenfanguan’r for showing me that Japanese food is so much more than just fancy arrangements of sushi rolls. Here’s my rendition of katsudon, combining some of my favorite aspects of Japanese comfort food: the sweet-salty sauce, the crunchy yet juicy pork, the half-cooked eggs. This recipe absolutely nails it.
Katsudon (adapted from Goboroot) – serves 4
4 pork center cut loin pices, about 1 in thick, boneless (I used pork chops)
Salt & pepper
1 egg, beaten well
Panko crumbs (if you can though, definitely make your own panko crumbs using white bread)
Oil for deep frying
1 onion, sliced into 1/4 in pieces
6 tbsp soba sauce or more to your liking
4 eggs, beaten very lightly
Green onions, scallions, or chives, chopped finely
Cooked white rice
Pat the pork til dry, then season with salt and pepper. If you’re making your own panko crumbs, place the bread in a blender and blend until the bread looks like large snowflakes. Larger flakes make the katsudon more fluffy and textured. (I used panko crumbs from Trader Joe’s, which have a pretty big crumb, and they turned out crispy and delicious.)
Prepare the breading station by placing flour, beaten egg, and panko in three separate shallow bowls.
Do one piece at a time, evenly coating the pork with flour (removing excess flour), coating with egg, then covering the entire surface of the pork with breadcrumbs. Press the meat gently but firmly. Wrap the pork in saranwrap, then refrigerate for at least 10 minutes to moisten the breading so it will adhere well while frying.
In the meantime, warm oil to 345-355 F in a pan deep enough for deep frying.
Deep fry pork until golden brown. Flip when halfway done. Test the doneness but slicing the thickest part. If finished, pork is slightly pink in color and the juices run clear. Rest the pork on a rack for 5 minutes, then slice into pieces that are easy for you to eat.
To make the soba sauce: loosely based on Emi’s recipe (link above), I brought 1/4 cup mirin to a boil in a small saucepan, then mixed in a little less than 1/2 cup sugar. I then added a little more than 1 cup of soy sauce, lowered the heat, and let simmer for a couple minutes, skimming occasionally.
Place the soba sauce plus ~1 cup of water in a small skillet over medium heat (I used a little less than 1 cup). Cook the onion until tender. Place the sliced pork pieces in the skillet and pour some soba sauce over top, then cook for a couple minutes. Pour the lightly beaten eggs over the top, cover with lid, and cook for another 15-30 seconds, until the eggs are half-cooked. Serve over cooked white rice with green onions scattered on top.