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Tonkotsu vs. Tonkatsu: Two Strikingly Different Japanese Recipes

Written by Peter Allen on . Posted in food

The difference between the tonkatsu and tonkotsu is not confined to the etymology of their names; rather the two recipes are essentially different from one another.

But they sound so similar that a person not from the Japanese origin may easily mistake one for the other. In fact, I faced this problem many a time when I visited different Japanese restaurants, though I had a vague idea about the two recipes, I always used to mix up their names.

It really hurts you when you are in the mood of having a bowl of the ramen soup, but instead, you mistakenly order for the Japanese pork cutlet. I have been through that.

And when finally, I had enough of that, I started to take more interest in their recipes, and that’s when I was able to find the distinct difference between them. It later got easier to remember them with their unique features.

What I found is that the one is a recipe of Japanese fried pork whereas the other is a pork bone ramen soup. Tonkotsu is the soup while the tonkatsu is the fried pork recipe.

But these definitions are not enough to get to the complete understanding of them both. That is why through the text of this article we will delve deeper and discuss their recipes at length. With recipes being clearer, we will then discover all the obvious differences between them.

What is Tonkatsu?

Katsu refers to cutlet, and the word Ton means Pork in Japanese. So, the Tonkatsu becomes the pork cutlet. It is known as the cutely because of its flat shape. The piece of pork is flattened and pressed using a mallet and then coated with the layer of flour, egg, and crumbs.

Therefore it turns out to be flat crispy cutlet of pork.

This recipe originated from the western parts of Japan and became readily popular ever since. It was sold as the street bought fast food. Today it is served at every good restaurant in Japan and several places in Asia. Here are few of the important characteristic features of a nicely cooked tonkatsu pork.

Crispy texture:

Tonkatsu is famous for two reasons, one is the juicy pork on the inside, and the other is the thick flour coating. The combination of these two together when deep fried, gives you a very crispy pork cutlet. This makes the meat lovers go crazy for it. To add more flavor, people often season the flour for coating with the salt and pepper.

Tonkatsu sauce:

Tonkatsu is seasoned in the end by pouring the special sauce over it. This sauce is also made as the part of its recipe. When the tonkatsu is completely cooked and ready to serve, it is drizzled over it.

The sauce is absorbed into the panko coating, which makes it partly crispy, soft and juicy. This sauce is made by mixing some basic kitchen ingredients and does not involve any cooking at all.

Method of cooking:

The tonkatsu is made by dipping and frying. First, the pounded and seasoned boneless pork loin is dipped into breadcrumbs. The outer layer of crumbs is paired with the inner layers of the whisked eggs and flour.

These three layers together make the tonkatsu the crispiest Japanese meal of all. Later when the coated meat is deeply fried, it turns soft and juicy on the inside. This is how tonkatsu is cooked according to the traditional Japanese methods.

Tonkatsu Recipe in all its Goodness

Along with the basic crispy Japanese fried pork, will mention the recipe for its sauce so that you enjoy the great taste with complete ease at home. the best part about this fried cutlet is that it is a perfect combination of juicy meat on the inside and the crispy, crunchy panko layer on the outside.

Let’s have a chance to enjoy this breaded pork even at your home with this simple and quick dip and fry recipe. Before coating the pork loin, it is seasoned with black pepper and salt to infuse flavors deeply; you can use other spices to season it as well as per your own preference.

Ingredients:

  • 2 ½”-thick lean boneless pork loin chops
  • salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • all-purpose flour
  • 1 large Egg
  • ½ Tbsp vegetable oil
  • Panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
  • neutral flavor oil (vegetable, canola, etc.)
  • Tonkatsu Sauce (homemade recipe)

Directions:

To make the traditional Tonkatsu, it is important to use the fresh panko breadcrumbs to get a fine crispy texture. They are also known as the Nama Panko. These crumbs can even be obtained by processing the white pieces of the white bread in the food processor.

You turn regular panko crumbs into tonkatsu suitable by spraying them with water and leave them for 15 minutes. The panko packages with largely sized crumbs are generally most suitable for Tonkatsu.

To prepare the meat for the tonkatsu, make sure to remove the fat and other connective tissue from the meat. Carve light slits on top of the pork pieces. It is important to remove the fat as during cooking those fats melt and the meat inside the coat then shrinks which does not make a flat and intact tonkatsu piece.

Once the meat is cleaned, pound it using a mallet or use the back of the knife. Season the meat with salt and pepper.Beat egg with half a tablespoon of oil in a shallow bowl and keep it aside. The adding of the oil to the egg, will keep the panko coating intact and attached to the meat inside during the deep frying.

Spread the flour in a shallow dish and dredge the pork meat in the flour. Shake off the excess of the flour then dip it in the whisked egg mixture. Now place the meat in the panko plate and cover it thoroughly with the breadcrumbs. Press the flat pieces gently to press in the crumbs.

Now that the meat is coated keep it aside.

Take a deep wok and heat the oil in it till it reaches 350 degrees F. To check the temperature, use the thermometer or stick in a chopstick, if the oil bubbles, it means the oil is ready for frying. There is another method to check the oil by adding few panko crumbs, and if the crumbs sink to the bottom and come back up, then the oil is ready.

Once the oil is ready, place the tonkatsu in the wok carefully and let it fry for 1 minute per side until it turns golden brown. Maintain the temperature to avoid overcooking or burning of the tonkatsu. For a thin meat piece, it takes hardly 45 seconds per side to cook it from inside out.

Remove the tonkatsu from the oil using a slotted spatula and drain the excess oil from it. place it over the wire rack to further remove the oil or place it over the paper towel to absorb all the oil.

Allow the tonkatsu to site for 4 minutes. Do not cut the tonkatsu in half to check the doneness. Return it to the oil and deep fry again at 350 degrees F for 30 seconds per side.

Insert a chopstick to check if the meat is done. If the liquid coming out of the meat is clean, then it is done. Drain the excess oil from the tonkatsu by holding it vertically over the wok with a tong then place it over the wire rack for 2 minutes.

Slice the Tonkatsu into three equal pieces using a sharp knife. Cut it in a way that the coating is not removed from any part of the tonkatsu. Serve warm with tonkatsu sauce on top.

Tonkatsu Sauce

Don’t worry If you don’t find the Tonkatsu sauce in the market as It is not commercially available in most parts of the world.

Making it at home is way easier than searching in the stores, just find the following ingredients and mix them in the given proportions. Blend them together in the blender until the sugar is completely dissolved. Your tonkatsu sauce is ready to pour over the freshly fried tonkatsu.

  • 1 Tbsp ketchup
  • 2½ tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1½ tsp oyster sauce
  • 1⅛ tsp sugar

Baked Tonkatsu

It is not necessary to always deep fry the coated pork steak especially when you are on a health-specific diet. it could be hazardous to enjoy a treat cooked in nothing but oil for people with cardiovascular or digestion problems; they still enjoy the same taste and crispy by simply baking the cutlets in the oven at 375 degrees F.

For this the oven has to be preheated before the cutlets are ready to be baked. Once the oven is heated, place the tonkotsu over the baking sheet and let it bake for 5 to 10 minutes per side. Flip it halfway through. Let it bake evenly from both the sides.

Do check if the meat inside is al dente, else continues baking for few more minutes at medium temperature without over baking the tonkotsu. This way you can prevent using a huge amount of cooking oil for its making.

Air Fried Tonkatsu

Besides baking, there is another way to enjoy oil free crispy tonkatsu cutlets by frying it in the air fryer. The fryer makes use of hot air to cook the meal inside. So, it renders the outer panko coating crispier and crunchier. By cooking it in the air fryer, it will not turn soggy after cooking even when you forget to use the paper towel for oil absorption.

To make tonkatsu in the air fryer, place it in the air fryer basket and lightly spray some cooking oil over the flat tonkatsu piece. Cook it for 5 or more at 360 degrees F. Keep checking its doneness to avoid overcooking or burning as every air fryer as its own temperature standards and settings.

Well either cooked through deep frying or by baking or even when air fried, Tonkatsu with the essence of its texture and taste remains the same and sharply distinct from the tonkotsu which is the topic of debate here.

I only shared these methods to make the making of tonkatsu easier for you and make it even healthier for everyone. I never kill you to try something new and healthy when it comes to food.

What is Tonkotsu?

Ramen soup lovers ultimately fall for the tonkotsu, as there is no better and richer soup than this one. the tonkotsu is a Japanese ramen soup dish which was originated from the region of Fukuoka, a place on an Island in Japan.

This dish combines the specialty of both cuisines from Kyushu and Fukuoka region of Japan that is why it employs different cooking techniques and makes use of a range of the ingredients. Traditionally the soup used to be sold as the quick fast food alternative, but today it is served in all the great eating places in Japan and around the world.

The base of the soup is made using the pork bones. When the water is cooked with these bones, their essence, fats, and collagen are released into the stock which makes it full of nutrients, minerals, and vitamins. This rich stock is seasoned with special garlic sauce, and other seasonings then served with pork meat and noodles in the bowl.

The word Tonkotsu literally translates into Pork bones.

In Japan, those bones are normally known as Tonkotsu, which are boiled in the soup to extract their taste. Any ramen soup made out of the essence of the pork bones is categorized as the Tonkotsu in Japan. This soup is not clear in appearance; rather it has a creamy and cloudy texture because of the pork fat mixed in the soup.

Moreover, it does not make use of the ordinary stock as other soups but they stock for this one is made especially using its own ingredients as the pork bones and trotters, which also makes the stock cloudy. Certain additional ingredients can also be added like the sesame seeds, chili paste, kombu and shoyu to add more taste.

The ramen noodles made for this soup is made by using special techniques where noodles are left hard at the center. Too soft of the noodles is not good for the texture of the soup. The firmness of the noodles can also be varied according to your own preference. Different Japanese restaurants offer the soup with varying degree of firmness of their noodles.

So, you can select any. The yaw amen noodles are too soft; the barikata are completely cooked whereas the barigane is a very hard variety of tonkotsu ramen noodles.

Garlic mayu made out of sesame oil and fried garlic is the secret ingredient of this recipe. When the soup is served with a drizzle of this mayu it gets a very sharp, strong smoky burnt taste which has no parallel in Japanese or other cuisines. This sauce is best to add when you already love that garlicky aroma and flavor. It suits well to the pork noodle ramen soup.

Tonkotsu ramen with rice

There is a variety of Tonkotsu ramen soup which originated in Fukuoka. Besides the noodles, this soup is often served with the rice. I personally love to have the tonkotsu with either plain boiled rice or mixed vegetable rice. To serve this combination, pour the soup over a half-filled bowl of rice and enjoy with your favorite garnishing.

Tonkotsu Recipe

The following tonkotsu recipe can make soup for as many as two to four people. The stock made out of the extensive process of pressure cooking of the pork bones can be preserved for 2 to 3 days in the refrigerator. But it has to be strained well before preservation.

Use a sealed container and store it if you are not making the soup on the same day. Reheat it at medium temperature before you go on adding the remaining soup ingredients.

I haven’t used any of the additional ingredients like sesame seeds, vegetables, etc., but you have completely liberty to add them as per your own preference. Chopped scallions and the garlic chashu is, however, a must to add for this recipe.

Ingredients:

Tonkotsu Base

  • 2 pig trotters, cut in half lengthwise
  • 5 pounds pork leg bone, cut into several pieces
  • 5 pounds of chicken bones
  • 2-inch knob fresh ginger, sliced thin
  • 1 small head garlic, whole
  • 1 large onion, sliced thinly
  • 1 teaspoon white peppercorns
  • Mayu, black garlic oil
  • 1/4 cup toasted sesame oil
  • 5 cloves garlic grated

For soup

  • 3 cups Tonkotsu base
  • 1 tablespoon tahini
  • 1 tablespoon braising liquid from chashu
  • 2 cloves garlic finely grated
  • 1 – 2 teaspoons salt (to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon mirin
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds coarsely ground
  • 2 tablespoons fatback finely minced (salted pork fat)

To serve

  • 1/2 batch fresh ramen noodles
  • 2 teaspoons mayu chashu
  • 2 scallions finely chopped

Directions:

First, the tonkotsu base is prepared by filling a pressure cooker with water up to 2/3rd full and heat it until it boils. Place the pig trotters in the boiling liquid and let them cook for 15 minutes. This boiling will allow maximum removal of the gunk from the trotter.

Once it is done, transfer the trotter to a bowl filled with cold water. Repeat the same process with chicken bones and leg bones. You can change the boiling liquid or use the same for this.

After draining the bones, discard the boiling liquid and wash the cooking pot. Return all the boiled bones to the same pot after rinsing them thoroughly. Pour clean water into over these bones until they are just covered. Again, boil all these bones and continue skimming off all the excess fats on the surface. Continue cooking them for 30 minutes while skimming constantly.

While the bones are cooking, add oil to a cooking pot up to ½ inch and heat it on medium heat for 3 to 4 minutes. Toss in ginger, and garlic to sauté until they are golden brown.

Use a slotted spoon to transfer the ginger garlic to a bowl. Add onions to the same oil and cook until it is caramelized and crispy. Transfer the fried onion to the ginger and garlic using a slotted spoon and keep them aside.

Once the stock is cooked, add the fried garlic, ginger and onions mixture to the stock and add white pepper for seasoning. Now seal the pressure cooker with its lid and cook the bones for 1 hour and 45 minutes on high pressure. If not pressure cooking, cook the bones for 6 hours with covered lid. Bones should be covered with water during this cooking.

After releasing the pressure from the pressure cooker remove the bones from the stock using tongs. Also, remove the pork chunks from this soup and set them aside. Strain the stock into another pot.

Keep this soup base aside for later use.

Black garlic oil is also used for this recipe which is made by heating sesame oil in the pan. Sauté garlic in this pan until dark brown. Reduce the heat and let the garlic turn black in this oil then turn off the heat.

Transfer the garlic along with its oil to a heatproof bowl and allow it to cool completely. Now transfer the mixture to a food processor and blend until it is completely smooth and oil is evenly black. This mixture tasted bitter and burnt in taste, but only a small amount of it is used. Transfer it to a sealable container and refrigerate until further use.

Use the prepared tonkotsu soup base and pour it in the saucepan. Heat this base to cook the ramen. Combine chashu liquid, with tahini, salt, white pepper, mirin, and grated garlic.

Mix these ingredients well together then pour this mixture into the hot soup. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper while stirring the soup. Bring it to a simmer then add sesame seeds and pork fat.

Divide the boiled noodles into the two serving bowls and pour the tonkotsu soup over them. Garnish each bowl with chashu, scallions and a drizzle of black garlic oil.

Tips:

To get that creamy white color in the soup, it is important to always use the pig trotters and the leg bones. When they are cooked in the stock, they release collagen and marrow into the soup which turns it white in color and creamier in consistency. Other pork bones do not give the same flavor and the color which would suit the tonkotsu’s consistency.

Salted pork fat to add to the recipe is one of the essential parts of the making of tonkotsu. Since most of the natural fat of the bones is skimmed off while making the base, so the pork fat balances out the fat content. When this fat is mixed into the soup, it further adds up to the sticky and creamy texture of the soup.

The fried onions mixture added to the cooking bones stock should be deep brown in color, and it should be evenly cooked.

The tahini used here is not the simple toasted sesame paste but it should be pale in color and should have the thick consistency. Go to an Eastern or Indian store to find a sesame paste with a light color if you can’t find in ordinary stores.

Differences Between Tonkatsu and Tonkotsu:

There is no way you would now mix up these two recipes, given that we have shared so much about them along with their recipes, yet it is important to have a comprehensive list of their difference to always keep them in your mind.

I make the difference between them by comparing their form and texture, the taste and aroma, the use of the ingredients, the sauces, the cooking method and the way they are served. Whereas the meaning of their names also points the major difference.

Ton is for ‘pork’ in Japanese whereas katsu is for ‘cutlet’ and the kotsu is for ‘bones,’ so the Tonkatsu becomes pork cutlet and the tonkotsu becomes the soup with pork bones. If that’s not enough, then don’t stop and continue scrolling and find out more about their differences.

  • Texture

Firstly, despite being made using the pork, the two recipes are sharply different from one another due to their distinct textures. One is mainly a well fried coated piece of meat, served with special sauce on top whereas the other contains no fried substances rather made out of a liquidy pork bones soup mixed with noodles and other ingredients.

One is sharp and crisp, and the other is soft and soupy. This difference is enough to make the two recipes look different from another.

  • Type of meat

In tonkatsu, pork steak meat is used, from the tenderloin area using is free from bones and fat. So, it has pure protein and lesser fats. Whereas the tonkotsu soup contains the stock cooked out of pork bones and the soup is made using pork fat. So, it contains a considerable amount of fat and collagen mixed with the soup.

The difference in the use of meat and bones affects the nutritional value of both the recipes. One is rich in proteins and carbs; the other contains all the rich nutrients like proteins, carbs, and fats, all together. These days people also make tonkatsu using chicken breast or beef steaks, but it does not taste the same as the traditional pork tonkatsu.

  • Method of preparation

The base for tonkotsu soup is made by pressure cooking the pork bones in the water and then later on the ingredients are simmered together until they are al dente.

Whereas the tonkatsu is made by the method is deep frying. The meat is first coated with layers of flour, egg, and crumbs and then deep fried at high temperature until it turns golden.

Tonkatsu is in fact cooked by the double frying method for deeper cooking and crispier texture on the outside. All these steps are missing from the recipe of the tonkotsu; it only applies the pressure or stove cooking.

  • Serving

When it comes to the serving, both the recipes are made for the different time of the meals. Tonkatsu is a crispy side dish which can be served even as a snack or as a carry along meal, but the tonkotsu is perfect for the main courses for dinner and lunch. The later is richer in content, as it is a combination of meat proteins, fats, vegetables and noodles combined into one.

  • Topping sauces

Tonkotsu has its own sauce to serve with which is sweet and savory in essence; it is made out of the combination of ketchup and oyster sauce whereas the tonkatsu soup contains the black garlicky mayu mixture which infuses a strong taste into the soup and season with salt and pepper.

The difference between these basic topping sauces makes these recipes even different in taste.

Conclusion

With the close resemblance in their names, the tonkotsu can easily be confused with tonkatsu, but when you actually try both of the recipes and check into their form and texture, these are the complete opposite of one and other. The tonkatsu is a fried pork meat recipe whereas the tonkotsu is the r amen soup made out of the pork bones and meat.

The crispy fried tonkatsu is recipe most suitable for snacks and side meals whereas tonkotsu is a complete meal in itself.

So, the difference is striking and without knowing which name stands for what combination of ingredients you can always mistakenly order for the wrong one. The O in Tonkotsu ramen can be related to the O in the soup; this method makes it easier for me to remember the difference between the two names.

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Peter Allen

Peter Allen

Peter's path through the culinary world has taken a number of unexpected turns. After starting out as a waiter at the age of 16, he was inspired to go to culinary school and learn the tricks of the trade. As he delved deeper, however, his career took a sudden turn when a family friend needed someone to help manage his business. Peter now scratches his culinary itch on the internet by blogging, sharing recipes, and socializing with food enthusiasts worldwide.

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