To some, tonkatsu is simply deep fried breaded pork. Little more than a fillet or loin of pork, panko bread crumbs, flour, eggs and some seasonings. A collection of everyday items that can be found in almost every supermarket. A dish that, in some form, is available at almost any restaurant that claims to serve Japanese food.
Common. Mundane. Boring.
However, to those that have had the pleasure of savouring really good tonkatsu, to those that have an appreciation for what good tonkatsu is all about, there is an understanding that the whole is considerably more than the sum of its parts. That a simple collection of everyday ingredients can transform into an exquisitely crunchy exterior encasing a moist and succulently sublime interior. That tonkatsu at its finest is a dish that is rare, extraordinary and enticing.
To have eaten good tonkatsu is one thing. To been shown how to make good tonkatsu takes the experience to a whole nother level. To have both on the same day? Well…
Sorry Masako. Better to have an air of mystery than unflattering photos.
Also pictured are fellow students (from the left) Anica, as in pizza (her phrasing, not mine) and Greg, as in keg (entirely my phrasing). Other class participants included Marina, Wendy, Paulina, Margaret, Joyce, Rhana and yours truly.
Kei’s Kitchen not only teaches the average Joe (or Jo) how to prepare Japanese dishes in a casual and accessible environment but you’re also invited to sit with Kei, Masako and the rest of the class over lunch to enjoy the fruits of your labour.
Though Kei’s Kitchen is better known for her seasonal kaiseki classes, there are other aspects of Japanese cuisine taught throughout the year. In this case, we’d learned a variety of yoshoku dishes; Japanese adaptation of dishes that have their roots in western cuisine.
While we wait for the other class participants to arrive, we’re offered a seat around a large table (pictured above) and handed our personalised recipe handouts for the day’s meals. Masako, acting as host and liaison for the class, provides an overview of the dishes to be taught that day, as well as some background history, cultural insight and other points of interest.
There is also the opportunity to partake in small talk with Kei and Masako before the class begins. For those of you who are Japan-curious, this is the perfect time to ask any questions you might have regarding Japanese culture or cuisine.
Between the class overview and the small talk there was much to learn. For instance:
- Yoshoku in English translates to “western cuisine“.
- Yoshoku is everyday food that the Japanese grew up with and ate at home.
- Some of the best Yoshoku restaurants are located in Ginza, with the Shiseido Parlour a specific example of such a place.
- Info regarding the best quality pork for tonkatsu and where to buy it (Bangalow Sweet pork and Pino’s in Kogarah).
- Japanese youth spend a fortune on designer handbags and that there can be some great buys in the second hand market for them.
Ok, so the last one is a little random but as you may suspect, the group was predominately female.
Once the class begins, each person is assigned to a prep station. Masako steps aside into an assistant’s role while Kei takes over the reins, expertly instructing each station with their task at hand. There is much to learn too. For instance, did you know you can devein a prawn without the need to split it down the back or use a skewer?
This conveniently segues to…
Ebi furai, for those that don’t already know or aren’t able to work it out from the pictures, it’s simply breaded prawn that has been given the deep fried treatment.
The keg and I, the only two males of the group, were assigned this post. I suspect that the reasons for this was that it was the dirtiest assignment (unfit for the delicate hands of a lady) and the one that required the least amount of skill. Maybe they didn’t trust us to use a delicate touch with the expensive looking and ultra sharp Japanese knifes.
Come on, we’re not thugs…
As pictured, the ebi furai station consisted of four main stages. The keg and I took the initiative to see through the whole process from start to finish. Clockwise, starting from the top left:
- The prawns are shelled, deveined and have incisions cut into them to keep them from curling up. They’re also given a special bath treatment before being dried off with paper toweling.
- The deveined prawns are coated in flour, egg wash and then panko bread crumbs.
- Breaded prawns are deep friend, though be wary of how long you cook them. If its light golden yellow, then Kei’s a happy fellow. If it turns medium brown, then she gives it the thumbs down.
- Draining rig to wick away excess oil, ready for plating and presentation.
Presentation is an important aspect that we were all taught, even thugs like the keg and I. These little mouse/rabbit tomatoes had the ladies of the class gushing over them and they’re a cinch to make. We even got a little creative and split a number of skins down the middle to make them look like bunny ears.
With cooking done and the meals plated and garnished, the class ended as it began – sitting around the large table, making small talk and discussing Japanese cuisine and culture. Everyone seemed happy enjoying the fruits of their labour, which included (as pictured):
- Tonjiru, a pork and miso based soup with daikon, burdock root, carrots and onion. A very light, fragrant and flavoursome soup (apologies for not actually taking a photo of the soup).
- Karei Takikomigohan, a curry infused steamed rice which was cooked in the rice cooker. Was a little disappointed with this one. Not due to the taste or anything; that was fine. When I was told that curry would be on the menu, I was hoping for the typical Japanese curry with a roux-based sauce. Guess it’ll still be S&B Golden Curry for me…
- Ebi furai, which is served with a Japanese-style tartare sauce. Much deliciousness, even the medium brown ones.
- Tonkatsu, wonderfully crunchy, moist, sweet tonkatsu. Served with tonkatsu sauce – a sweet bbq-like sauce (Bulldog was the brand of choice), the cute rabbit tomatoes and cabbage. We were informed that cabbage was an important component of a tonkatsu dish for its assistance with digestion, its ability to counteract oil and as a textural counterpoint, if memory serves me well. So much so that in Japan, you are offered or can request top-ups of cabbage at no extra cost.
At $120 per person (at the time of posting) for a 4 hour session which includes tuition, recipe handout, good quality ingredients and tools, as well as a sit down meal, I believe that it was well worth the cost. More information about available classes, including the ever popular kaiseki can be found at their website.
It was once said that if you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day, and that if you teach a man how to fish, you feed him for a lifetime. A lifetime of good tonkatsu? Mmmm… :)