The wisdom of 2 continents goes into these pork cutlets

New York TimesNovember 2, 2011 

I had always thought that schnitzel came in one flavor - veal - until a trip to Vienna several years ago set me straight.

The plate of schnitzel I was served in a restaurant there looked like the usual fare, but the meat had a fuller, brawnier flavor that was unmistakably porcine. I became an instant convert and sought out the crisp, breaded pork cutlets wherever I could for the rest of that trip.

Back in New York, pork schnitzel is harder to come by, at least in its Viennese iteration. So when the craving hits, I head to a Japanese restaurant and devour tonkatsu, deep-fried pork cutlets served with a thick, sweet and piquant Japanese Worcestershire sauce.

Thanks to a coating of fluffy, brittle panko instead of regular bread crumbs, tonkatsu (or pork katsu) is crunchier than most pork schnitzel, and the accompanying sauce gives it a jolt of tangy flavor.

Pork katsu is easy to make at home, especially if you borrow some techniques from its schnitzel sibling.

I always pan-fry the cutlets, schnitzel style, in a small amount of oil, instead of deep-frying them as one would for a classic tonkatsu.

Not only is pan-frying less messy and faster (you don't have to wait for a pot of oil to heat up), it can also give you the lightest, most ethereal cutlets imaginable.

The trick is to shake and swirl the pan, letting the hot oil cascade over the cutlets in waves. This helps create steam, which lifts and puffs the crumby crust away from the meat, helping it turn golden and intensifying the crunch.

Usually, I forgo the tonkatsu sauce at home since it is not one of the approximately 637 condiments I keep on hand. But the last time I made pork katsu, I added a dash of Worcestershire sauce and a dab of tomato paste to the egg mixture to approximate the savory, ketchuplike flavor.

Then for serving, I mixed together a salad of very mildly pickled cucumbers (tossed with sugar and salt and left to briefly drain) brightened with shiso leaves, soy sauce and sesame oil.

The juicy cucumbers were a nice contrast to the fatty, crisp pork, which had an especially savory bite from the Worcestershire.

It definitely wasn't schnitzel; nor was it exactly tonkatsu, but made for a dish that satisfied the same yen for crunchy pork that melted in the mouth.

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