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Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Katsudon (カツ丼)

Katsudon is definitely a great choice for cold weather. It has a rib-sticking comfort food quality that never fails to satisfy. Filling a bowl with piping hot rice, slipping a crispy crackly fried pork cutlet into a broth bursting with umami and onions, and finally covering everything with a luscious blanket of egg- it only takes minutes if you plan ahead and it is one of the best soul-warming foods, right up there for me with biscuits and gravy.

Now I realize I have very disparate tastes in comfort food, with American Southern cooking competing against Japanese American rice bowls for dominance, but I urge you to give this a try. 

I think the combination of salty fried porky goodness and carbs is universally appealing.

Katsudon is one of the most famous pork dishes in Japan. In fact, if I was being sensible it would have been one of my first blog posts, way before my post on Tonkatsu Karē Donburi. Of course, I don't play by the rules, but really it's a big deal in Japanese casual cuisine. It is even a part of popular culture: in Japanese crime shows, the suspect would be given katsudon to eat in order to make the interrogator seem like a nice fair guy in order to weasel the truth from the suspect.

Another funny anecedote about katsudon is that "katsu" sounds exactly the same as the verb "katsu" (勝つ) which means "to win." This makes this dish popular for sporting teams and students about to take an important test. For example, Hideki Matsui, former World Series MVP for the Yankees, stated in interviews that this was one of his favorite dishes.

Technically speaking, katsudon can be made several ways, but this preparation with the egg and onions is the most popular. In fact, most of the time when people talk about this dish, they simply call it "katsudon" rather than the more specific "Tamago-Toji Katsudon" (卵とじ カツ丼) which translates as "egg-bound cutlet bowl." Even my Tonkatsu Karē Donburi is really just a variation of katsudon with curry sauce. I will have to share more katsudon varieties in the future!

I find the easiest way to make this dish is to make a whole bunch of tonkatsu (fried pork cutlets) ahead of time, and freeze them. Then when I'm craving a donburi, I simply take a tonkatsu out of the freezer and toast in in the toaster oven or regular oven until warm and crispy, about 10 minutes at 450°F. The whole bowl, including time to toast the tonkatsu, comes together in about 15 minutes, 20 minutes if you are as horrible at cutting onions as me.

Tamago-Toji Katsudon (卵とじ カツ丼)

For the tonkatsu:
2 boneless pork chops (1/2" thick)
2 tbs all purpose flour
1 egg, beaten
1 cup panko bread crumbs
canola or peanut oil for frying

1 1/3 cup dashi
1/4 cup shoyu
2 tbs mirin
1 tbs sugar
2 eggs
1/2 white onion, cut lengthwise and then into 1/4" slices
2-4 cups of white rice (depending on your appetite)
garnish: mitsuba leaves and shichimi togarashi

Serves two, but I highly recommend making extras of the tonkatsu and freezing them for later, especially when you spy a sale on pork chops. 

To make the tonkatsu, trim the excessive fat off the pork chops and make cuts along the edge of the meat to keep it from curling. Then, either tenderize by making cuts all of the surface of the meat or giving it a couple good whacks with a meat mallet. Season with salt and pepper, then dredge in the following order: flour, egg, then panko crumbs. Make sure the pork is completely coated, paying attention to the edge of the cutlet. Pour the oil into a saucepan, you only need about 1.5-2" of oil. Heat the oil to 350°F and fry the cutlets, turning occasionally, about 4 minutes total. If it's a small pan, fry one piece at a time or two, don't crowd the pieces or the temperature of the oil will plummet. After the panko is a rich golden brown, remove cutlet from oil and drain on a wire rack. Cut into 1/2" strips. 
If you are making more than two tonkatsu, don't cut them into strips but let the extras cool completely then wrap well and store in the freezer.

I usually cook one portion at a time, it looks better this way, but to save time feel free to put it all in one pan and just divide the toppings on top of the rice. It might look a little messier, but tastes just the same. Place a serving of piping hot rice into each bowl (1-2 cups depending on your appetite). 

Combine the dashi, shoyu, mirin, and sugar and pour roughly half of the broth in a small saucepan. Place half the onion slices in the broth and bring to a boil over medium heat. Boil until the onions are to your liking (I like them on the softer side, about 2 minutes). Meanwhile, lightly beat the egg, do not completely mix. Place the tonkatsu strips on top of the onions and broth, then drizzle one egg around/over the tonkatsu. Do not stir, cook covered for 30 seconds then turn off the heat, wait for 30 seconds more, then transfer the egg and pork mixture over the hot rice. Repeat with the second portion. Garnish with mitsuba and shichimi togarashi.

See Also:
Chikuwa Teriyaki Donburi
Lazy Spam Donburi


  1. We learned to make many wonderful Japanese dishes during the 11 years we lived in Japan.

    Katsudon is one of those that we make whenever the family can all get together. It reminds us of happy times in our little traditional house in a farming community.

    Keep up the blog. I enjoy it immensely.

    1. Katsudon is soul-warming stuff, and I love hearing stories of food that brings back memories like that. I love food that evokes memories of a good time, of family or friends bonding.