I often marvel at how certain ingredients that were considered totally fringe and specialist a few years ago are not readily available in pretty much any large supermarket in the UK. I remember spending ages searching my local Tesco growing up for ghee when I first discovered Indian cooking, and for the life of me couldn’t find it anywhere, yet that very same shop now sells three kinds of it next to the tamarind extract – another ingredient I could only imagine in my wildest dreams as a teenager. I think many of us fell into the habit of just glazing over these ingredients and settling for a vague alternative – need ghee? Just use butter. What the hell is panko? Oh, just use breadcrumbs.
Of course, panko is one of those other ingredients that often gets specifically named in recipes. Not just breadcrumbs – panko breadcrumbs. “How different can they really be?” people ask, but I’m here to assure you, there is a very good reason panko is the gold standard for breading. Panko dough is cooked in an extremely unique way – rather than being baked or steamed, it is cooked via electrical current. This is, apparently, a holdover from WWII soldiers using tank batteries to cook their dough. This changes the dough on a molecular level, imbuing it with trillions of microscopic air pockets. These pockets create a beautifully crisp coating that is far more crunchy and satisfying than other breadcrumbs even when ground down to a fine powder (you’ll note, they’re usually sold in larger shards). It also has the benefit of allowing more oil to escape during the resting process, making panko coatings lower in fat than other breading methods.
Katsu is, of course, one of the world’s many popular ways of breading and frying meats. Like Viennese schnitzel or the Middlesbrough parmo, the meat is pounded flat to create a large surface area on which to bind the crisp, delicious coating. While the katsu curry has grown massively in popularity in the UK in recent years, I am serving this with the traditional tonkatsu sauce – a sweet and spicy fruit based sauce not entirely unlike HP. There doesn’t seem to be an exact consensus on what ingredients go into this sauce, but I’ve combined a few different prior recipes I’ve seen in an attempt to make it as easy to achieve with common kitchen staples.
- Chicken fillets – I prefer the flavour of the thighs for this, but breast would work too.
- Panko breadcrumbs – a few tbsp per fillet.
- 1-2 eggs.
- A few tbsp plain flour.
- Salt and pepper to taste.
- Neutral oil such as vegetables or sunflower – at least enough to cover a breaded fillet in the pan you are using.
For approx. 4 servings of the tonkatsu sauce
- 3 tbsp tomato ketchup.
- 2 tsp Worcester sauce.
- 1 tsp apple sauce.
- 1 tsp brown sugar.
- 1 tsp oyster/fish sauce.
- Place your fillets under some cling film and beat with either a tenderiser or rolling pin until around 1.5cm thick.
- 1 at a time, coat your fillets in flour (seasoned with a sprinkling each of salt and pepper), then dip in beaten egg, then coat in the panko breadcrumbs. Ensure that the fillet is fully coated at each step so the coating adheres properly.
- Pour the oil in your frying vessel (I use a small saucepan to avoid wastage on the oil). When it is hot enough that a breadcrumb sizzles upon being dropped in, it’s ready for frying. Add the chicken carefully, taking care not to crowd the pan. Remember, the more you add at once, the lower the temperature of the oil will drop. Fry for a few minutes until the coating is golden brown. Turn it at least once throughout for even heat distribution.
- When each fillet is cooked, I like to put it on a wire rack inside a slightly warmed oven (around 100C). This stops them going cold and gives the coating a chance to shed the excess oil.
- Combine all of the ingredients for the tonkatsu sauce in a small bowl and taste to adjust the flavour for your liking – more sugar if it’s too sour, a splash of vinegar/Worcester sauce if it’s too sweet.
- To serve, sprinkle a little salt on the breaded fillets and drizzle with the sauce. I served mine with a simple cucumber and edamame salad, but sticky rice works wonderfully too.