Welcome to my kitchen

A while ago, I realized I was serious enough about bread baking to stop diddling around with the 3-packs of yeast from the grocery store, or even the small jars for a small fortune. So I pulled up my big girl pants, and ordered "A Pound Of Yeast". It's in my freezer, and I use it regularly, and I guess that makes me "A Baker". Even though I always said "I can't bake". So, join me on my journey, and let's see what that pound of yeast makes, and where we go next....

Sunday, May 15, 2011

What' s "nu" with you? How about katsu??

One of my favorite, relatively quick, stress free meals is katsu curry.  Katsu (also known as tonkatsu or, when made with pork, katsudon), is a Japanese dish made of thinly sliced pieces of meat or poultry.  It's usually made with pork or chicken, but can also be made with beef or ham.  The thin sliced protein is pounded out to further tenderize and flatten it, floured, dipped in an egg wash and breaded with panko .  Panko, if you aren't familiar with it, is a coarse, dry, flaky bread crumb, made from untoasted bread.  The crumbs are larger and lighter than Western style bread crumbs.  It's pretty commonly available in most grocery stores these days, and really gives a superlative crust to fried foods.

The breaded protein cutlets are then pan-fried in shallow oil (they can also be deep-fried, but, well *I* don't deep-fry) until they achieve the beloved "golden brown deliciousness" you see above.

At that point, there's an endless variety of things you can do with the little gems.  You can eat them as is, with some rice, and maybe a veg.  They're pretty darn good that way.  You can make them into a sandwich called a katsu-sando and pack it for lunch.  You can serve them with a tonkatsu sauce to dip the cutlets in, and to drizzle over the rice.  Well-stocked grocery stores should have tonkatsu sauce in their Asian food aisle.  If you can't find it, a good approximation is 1/2C ketchup mixed with 2 tablespoons each Worcestershire and soy sauces.  Tonkatsu served with this sauce is usually served with finely shredded cabbage and carrot alongside.  Or, you can make a more elaborate sauce that I'll give you the recipe for below.  You could, if you wanted to be really authentic, turn the cutlets into a full-blown katsudon, which is a bowl of rice, topped with the katsu cutlet, which is then topped with a fried or poached egg.  The katsu sauce is then drizzled over all, along with scallions or peas.

Or....you can make katsu curry, or Japanese curry (or curry rice).  Yum.  Trust me, you'll want to make katsu curry.

I first had this dish about 25 years ago.  I had just discovered Indian food, and all the glorious iterations of  "curry" in the cuisines of that amazing nation.  A co-worker and I wanted to go to lunch one day, and he suggested we go to a local restaurant called "The Curry House".  I leapt at the chance, because I figured it would be Indian food of some ilk.  But it wasn't.  It was a Japanese restaurant.  At that point, the only exposure I'd had to "Japanese" food had been Benihana (hangs head in shame....).
Luckily, that lunch schooled me and took me down a brand new road in my culinary education.

"Curry" was introduced to Japan by the British, during the time of British rule in India.  In its basic form, Japanese curry is a stew-like dish, where curry powder is sauteed in oil, along with flour, to form a type of a roux, which is then added to braised meat and vegetables, and simmered together until thick.  Typical vegetables are onions, carrots and potatoes.  The saucy curry is then served on top of rice.  Japanese curry is also terribly popular in Hawaii, and frequently a part of the ubiquitous "plate lunch" there.

Katsu curry combines the fried , breaded katsu cutlet (really ?!?  Wow....imagine that....katsu curry contains katsu) with the curry sauce.  Luckily, there's also a commercial curry base that makes this dish truly a snap to make.

So let's get cooking, eh?

First up is to get your protein rolling.  Again, you can make this with chicken (and I have, boneless, skinless thighs are best, I think) or pork (which I used here, loin, pre-cut into medallions).  I suppose you could even make it with turkey tenderloins, but I won't claim to know you then....(kidding).  You want tender, relatively lean, and thin-cut meat.  Which you're then going to trim away any excess fat, season on both sides with salt and pepper, and pound even thinner with a meat pounder.  Not the "toothy" side, the flat side.  Seriously, go all postal on it.  You should end up with something like this:

OK, that's actually BEFORE pounding.  But you'll see the difference in the next shot.

Then you want to dredge it in flour:

See how much bigger the pork cutlet is compared to the first shot?  That's due to the pounding.  When you beat that puppy, try to use a motion that sort of "pushes" out from the center to the edges.  That will help to thin and tenderize the meat.

Then, dip in an egg wash.  I usually add a touch of water to the egg, just to lighten it up a bit.  Let the excess egg drip back off into the pan:

Then into the panko.  See the texture on those crumbs?  That's what makes them so different from American bread crumbs, and so crispy and nummy when they're fried up.

Press down a bit on the cutlet to make sure the panko adheres to it.  Then flip, and bread the other side.

See how nice and crusty that's going to be?  That's some good stuff going on there.

Now comes the first of the million dollar tips in this recipe.

Do it again.  That's right.  Save for the flour step (which we'll skip this round), we're going to re-bread the cutlet.  Dip the breaded cutlet BACK into the egg wash...

...and then back into the panko.  On both sides.

Then comes the SECOND million dollar tip I'm going to share.  Take the double-dipped cutlets, and lay them on a wire cooling rack.  You can set it over a sheet pan if you want, but the breading is stable enough I just let it go over a spare cutting board.

Here's the whole breading assembly line, just for reference:

Now.  Let your breaded cutlets sit on that rack for at least a half an hour.  Just leave them alone.  This gives the breading time to firm up, and really adhere to the meat, and for all the layers to come together into one shattery-crisp marvel.

Now's the time to start your rice (I used a short grain, sticky rice), and get your sauce going.  After I'd cleaned up from the breading, of course (into the dishwasher went the breading pans and the cutting board I'd used for the raw pork, my hands got washed about 10 times, and the detritous that invariably gets spewed around got swept off into the trash can).

Here's the curry base we'll be using.  Again, available at well-stocked grocery stores in the Asian food aisle.  I've tried making the curry sauce from scratch, and well, this is better.  At least, it's what I've come to love, so commercial it is.

Chop up some onion, fairly small dice.  I was only using half of the curry sauce package, so I used about half a small onion.  Normally I'd use a carrot or two, peeled and also small dice, but I was out of them, so sadly, no carrots this time around.  Pour a bit of oil (not olive) into a saucepan, heat it up, and saute the veggies in it until they get soft.

Open the package of the curry base, and cut or break the paste into chunks.  Since I was only going to use half of the package, I chose to cut half of it into pieces, and then stuck the rest into the fridge.

Put that into the saucepan with the proper amount of water, according to the package directions.  At first it will look like a toxic waste spill:

But with some simmering, and stirring, the curry paste will dissolve, and it'll thicken up nicely, and become a creamy, thick, unctuous, flavorful sauce.

By now, the half-hour has passed, and it's time to fry up your cutlets.  Heat some neutral oil (not olive) in a large saute pan over medium heat.  When it's good and hot, it should be shimmering (not smoking), about 165°, lay your breaded katsu into the oil, and cook for about 6-8 minutes.  You want to make sure the oil is good and hot, if it's too cool, the breading with absorb the oil and your katsu will be greasy.

When they're nice and browned on the first side, flip them over and do it again (another 6-8 minutes):

As Justin Wilson used to say, "don' dat be purdy?"

When they're done, fluff your rice, and slice the katsu into strips.  Sppon the thick, savory curry sauce over the katsu and the rice, and serve any extra on the side to dip the katsu in as you like.

Here's the recipe for the cutlets, and for a more involved katsu sauce.

Japanese Style Pork Cutlets
Serves 4
About 45 minutes total time
(adapted from "Cuisine At Home" magazine, April 2002)

1/2 pound pork loin cutlets (can use boneless, skinless chicken thighs, thin chicken breast cutlets, or turkey breast tenderloin)
1&1/2 cup raw, short- or medium-grain rice
6 eggs, lightly beaten with a splash of water (1-2 tablespoons full)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
2-3 cups panko bread crumbs
1/4 cup vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 200°.

Prepare meat for cutlets.  Trim any excess fat from meat.  Season both sides with salt and pepper.  Place on solid surface, and cover with plastic wrap.  Pound with flat side of meat mallet, pushing gently out from center with each stroke, until medallions are uniformly thin (about 1/8-inch).

Place the flour, seasoned with a bit of salt and pepper, in a shallow dish or pie plate.  Beat the eggs with the water, and place in a second dish.  Place the panko in a third dish.

Bread cutlets by first dredging both sides in flour which has been seasoned with salt and pepper, then dipping into egg wash, and followed by the panko.  Dip the breaded cutlets into the egg wash again, on both sides, then into the panko again, on both sides.  Transfer to a wire cooling rack and set aside at room temperature for at least 30 minutes.

If making optional sauce (below), start preparation now.  Also, start rice according to package directions.

After the meat has rested for 30 minutes, pour oil into large saute pan, and heat over medium-high heat until shimmering.  Fry the cutlets in batches, browning on both sides until cooked through, about 8-12 minutes total.  Transfer cooked cutlets to a plate lined with paper towels to drain, and then to a clean wire cooling rack over a sheet pan, and keep warm in 200° oven until all cutlets are cooked.

Fluff rice, and slice cutlets into strips.  Top with prepared curry sauce for katsu curry, or with sauce below for katsudon.

Katsudon sauce

2 cups sliced onion
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup mirin*
1/2 cup low-sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons sugar
4 slices fresh ginger
chopped scallions for garnish

Simmer onion, broth, mirin, soy sauce, sugar and ginger in a large saute pan over medium-low heat until onion is soft, about 15 minutes.

After cutlets have been fried and drained, place two cutlets at a time into the simmering broth and cook about 1 minute to warm through.  Remove and slice cutlets and place on top of rice.  Ladle additional broth over, and sprinkle with chopped scallions.

*Mirin is a Japanese rice wine, seasoned with sugar and salt, and commonly used as a condiment in Japanese cuisine.  It should be available in the Asian section of well-stocked grocery stores, or in an Asian market.

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