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Cooking from the World Pantry: Panko

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Tonkatsu: Fried Pork Cutlet
Photo by: Maria Zizka

Summer’s end is drawing near. You wouldn’t know it from the higher than average temperatures across the country, but Labor Day is indeed right around the corner, followed shortly by the autumnal equinox. Soon enough, we will be craving long-cooked stews, braises, and apple pies. Now’s the time to get our fill of summer foods.

There’s no need to turn your oven on. Save it for the coming months when the heat it gives off will be welcomed. Instead, turn your attention to frying, a technique that many home cooks shy away from because it seems too messy, dangerous, difficult, or all of the above. I promise, it really doesn’t have to be. With a little preparation and the right tools, frying foods at home can actually be quick and easy.

First, you’ll need a heavy pan to help maintain a steady oil temperature and a kitchen thermometer to accurately measure that temperature. You won’t need buckets of oil—just enough so that the ingredient you are frying can float comfortably. For a thin, pounded cutlet of meat, one inch of oil usually does it.

Are you starting to think about which ingredient you might like to fry? Good. There are many options: breaded shrimp, chicken legs, thinly sliced vegetables, onion rings, and much more. For all of these ingredients, your goal is a crisp, crunchy exterior. To achieve such a crust, look to the Japanese breadcrumbs known as panko. They have been embraced by cooks for many years and are widely available in grocery stores.

Panko is made from yeast-risen, high protein wheat bread that is baked in an unusual way. After kneading and shaping, the dough is placed between metal plates and cooked by electrical current, not heat. The resulting loaves have no crusts. The bread is then ground into airy, jagged slivers that resemble the tiny pieces at the bottom of a bag of potato chips. Panko is remarkably crunchy and doesn’t seem to absorb as much oil as regular breadcrumbs, making it ideal for frying.

Dredge your ingredient of choice in flour, dip in beaten egg, then coat with panko. It takes only a few minutes to fry in hot oil, and you’ll be rewarded with a summer dinner that doesn’t require turning on the oven.

Fried Pork Cutlet (Tonkatsu)

If you don’t eat pork, you can make chicken-katsu using pounded boneless chicken. For vegetarians, the cap of a large portabella mushroom or several smaller shiitake mushrooms would work just as well.

Serves 4

½ cup all-purpose flour
1 large egg
1 cup panko
4 boneless pork loin chops, pounded ½ inch thick
Vegetable oil, for frying
½ small head green cabbage, very thinly sliced
1 lemon, cut into 4 wedges
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

On a large plate, toss together the flour and ½ teaspoon of salt. In a pie dish, whisk the egg. Spread the panko across another plate.

Using the tip of a knife, make small, shallow cuts all over the pork. Season the meat with salt and pepper on both sides.

Working with one pork cutlet at a time, dredge the pork in the flour mixture, shaking off any excess, then dip it in the beaten egg, and then roll it in the panko, pressing to help the panko adhere.

Heat about 1 inch of oil in a heavy pan to 350°F. Carefully place 2 cutlets into the hot oil and cook, turning once or twice, until golden brown and cooked through, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer the pork to a wire rack (or a plate lined with paper) and let cool for a minute. Repeat with the remaining cutlets.

Slice the tonkatsu into 1-inch-wide strips. Serve with the sliced cabbage and lemon wedges.

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