Ah, the elusive katsu sando.
The Japanese fried pork cutlet sandwich (see the recipe) is something of a mystery and often hard to find outside of Japan — but we're fortunate at TT to have Hi-Collar, a tiny Japanese café hidden nearby in the East Village. The restaurant makes one of the best katsu sandos in the city, served beautifully and traditionally, cut-side up on slices of pillowy white bread dressed with barbecue sauce. According to manager Yuki Izumi, Hi-Collar put a count on this coveted lunch item and sells only 10 a day. "It's too popular, and we like to see our other dishes as well," she says.
If you're not lucky enough to score one at the tiny counter, you can make the crisp, salty, epic snack at home. Izumi helps us break down the katsu and figure out what makes this Japanese sandwich so special — which would be just three major elements. So pay close attention.
Pork, the gateway cutlet. First and foremost, it's about the meat. Fatty, juicy and flavorful, pork is a perfect starting point for this sandwich. Pork loin or boneless pork chop are the cuts typically used, but these are only gateway cutlet options that open a door to the vast world of katsu possibilities. Should you choose to stay mainstream, chicken or beef are no-brainers. Seafood? Try oysters, shrimp or even a whole sardine, as the restaurant 10 William St. does in Sydney, Australia. Vegetarian options are fun, but stick with firmer vegetables like lotus root and celery root. But no matter which protein (or veg) you use, a panko (Japanese bread crumb) coating is always the way to go. The light, airy and crunchy crumb is a sure path toward a golden exterior without weighing down the meat.
No crust allowed. "In general, the katsu sandwich is served with nontoasted white bread. The softness of the bread, crunchiness and juicyness of the meat, and the sauce create a good combination," Izumi says. That soft white loaf she is referring to is milk bread, Japan's richer and more tender version of Wonder Bread. After removing the crusts, which is a must-do, the two featherly slices are doused with katsu sauce before sandwiched around the fried cutlet.
Be a sauce boss. Traditional tonkatsu is a barbecue sauce with tangy and fruity notes. Some restaurants make their own, and different Japanese cities even have their own versions. Izumi says that the city of Nagoya is known for its miso-based katsu, which gives the sandwich a fermented, funky flavor. Hi-Collar uses the Otafuku brand, which uses dates to impart sweetness. It's rich enough to stand up to the just-out-of-the-fryer and hot AF pork, yet it doesn't overpower the sandwich; instead it lends the right amount of sweetness to each bite.
The add-ins. Beyond meat, bread and sauce, additions are optional. Hi-Collar keeps things simple and serves a homemade egg salad tartar sauce on the side. A little swipe onto each bite gives the right amount of mustardy kick and acidity from the pickles. However, shredded cabbage is another common component, which could add a nice little crunch.
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