It might be exaggerating to say that this dish was my Waterloo, but only slightly. Maybe you've heard of a little thing called trichinosis, the rare parasitic disease historically found in raw pork. Well, when I was a little kid, someone made the mistake of telling me about it, I think in reference to Mozart, who may have died thusly (and from cutlets no less). Well hello paranoia, thy name is Kipp.
Ever since that day I have avoided raw pork meat like the black death (suspecting that it was nearly as fatal). This was a hamper to my Japanese cooking, because pork is hugely popular in Japan. I was also a vegetarian for five years and only just started eating pork again, and everyone was right, it is delicious. I knew that soon I would have to take the plunge and cook up some tonkatsu, a widely celebrated fried pork dish. So after doing a little research, and learning that modern farming has all but eradicated the parasites that cause trichinosis, I set aside the plastic gloves and used my barehands to make tonkatsu.
The Japanese people do not shared my former aversion to pork. In fact, in Japan it is eaten more than chicken and beef combined. In the prehistoric Yayoi Period pigs were domesticated and used for both work and meat, but when Buddhism came to Japan, many people decided that slaughtering livestock was against those teachings. Animal husbandry died out over time, though in some regions, hunting wild boar was still occasionally done. In the Waring States Period the samurai from Satsuma called pigs "Walking vegetables" (something I'm sure the proponents of "Bacon Mania" would love). They were well known for taking pigs along with their troops for rations and people credited this with their battle prowess.
Once meat was officially brought back on the national menu during the Meiji Reformation, common people embraced pork because of its relative cheapness. The depression of the 1930s anchored this even more, and a piece of tonkatsu became the cheapest meal available to the working man. Another boon was the readiness of traditional eateries to incorporate this dish, using its popularity to fight the competition of more modern establishments.
Today in Japan, tonkatsu is still very popular and can be served in a variety of ways. Weather you're eating it with rice, in a sandwich, with curry, in a bowl of ramen, or on a skewer, the flavor and crunchiness will delight you. And it is so very easy to prepare! The recipe I used was from "Japanese Soul Cooking" by Tadashi Ono and Harris Salat, one of my favorite books.
Traditionally, tonkatsu is served on a bed of shredded cabbage, with "tonkatsu sauce", a bastardization of Worcestershire sauce that is quite yummy. I already had some of this sauce on hand, as I had been saving it up for when I finally get around to making okonomiyaki (more on that in the future).
The pork cutlets are coated in egg, flour, and finally panko (Japanese bread crumbs), then deep fried. Apparently the specialty shops use lard to fry them, but I used coconut oil. The whole meal was done in about fifteen minutes, the longest time came from my having to run the pork under the tap because I forgot to take it out of the freezer. In Japan they say that you have to cook them until they are the color of a kitsune (golden fox). not being overly familiar with that shade, I went for the standard golden brown.
This meal was not disappointing at all. Crunchy and lightly flavorful, perfectly balanced by the tangy sauce, I am looking forward to making it again. Not to mention the other pork dishes that this has opened the door to. No longer hampered by my crippling fear of raw pork I can be free. (Don't worry though because I can still be scared of sea monsters and volcanoes)
Until next time, keep working on conquering your cooking fears!