The prototype for these bite-sized cutlets is tonkatsu, deep-fried breaded pork, a hybrid dish inspired by Dutch and Prussian food that evolved during the Meiji period (late-nineteenth-century Japan). Today, tonkatsu is standard fare appearing on restaurant menus and family dinner tables throughout Japan.
- For the Pork Cutlets:
- 10 to 12 ounces lean pork butt or boneless loin, in a single piece
- 4 or 5 shiso leaves
- 1 tablespoon bainiku (ume fruit concentrate) or 1 umeboshi (pickled ume fruit), pit removed and flesh mashed
- 1/2 sheet toasted nori
- 1 tablespoon Leek Miso (recipe follows)
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 small egg beaten with 2 tablespoons cold water
- 1 cup panko
- Vegetable oil for deep-frying
- For the Leek Miso (makes about 1/2 cup):
- 1 small leek, preferably Japanese leek, about 3 ounces, trimmed, white and tender green parts finely minced
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1/3 cup mugi miso
- 2 tablespoons mirin
- 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
- 3 or 4 tablespoons basic sea stock or water
FOR THE PORK CUTLETS:
Cut paper-thin slices against the grain from the block of meat (partially freezing the pork will make it easier to slice). You should get 8 to 10 slices each measuring about 2 1/2 inches wide, 4 inches long, and 1/8 inch thick. If you are having trouble getting broad, even slices, do not worry. Pieces can be patched together.
Separate and spread out the large slices on a cutting board, shorter sides at the top and bottom. (If you are patching pieces together, be sure to overlap them, keeping the larger slice on the bottom and closer to you.) Each slice will become a roll, half of them filled with bainiku and shiso leaves, and the other half filled with toasted nori and miso.
Trim away the stem from each shiso leaf, and cut the leaves in half lengthwise. Place the straight, cut edges of each half leaf flush, right and left, with the longer sides of the meat, overlapping the leaf halves in the center if necessary. Take a small portion of the plum paste (bainiku) and, using a butter knife or small spatula, spread it thinly over the leaves. Starting from one of the shorter ends of the meat, roll away from you jelly-roll fashion. Repeat to make a total of 4 or 5 rolls filled with shiso and plum. Set aside the rolls, seam side down.
Cut the nori into 4 or 5 strips, 1 strip for each slice of meat remaining. Lay the nori in the center of a pork slice so the edges are flush, right and left, with the longer sides of the meat. With a butter knife or small spatula, spread a bit of the miso (instructions follow) on the nori. Starting from one of the shorter ends of the meat, roll away from you jelly roll fashion. Repeat to make a total of 4 or 5 rolls filled with nori and miso. Set aside the rolls, seam side down.
One at a time, dust the rolls with the flour. Pay special attention to the seam, keeping it sealed and dusting over it. Using a pastry brush makes this easy. Then, one at time, dip the flour-dusted rolls into the egg mixture. To make sure each roll is fully coated, lay the egg-dipped roll on a pile of the panko crumbs and, using scooping or shoveling motions with a spoon, cover the top of the roll with crumbs. Lightly press the top layer with the back of the spoon. Set the breaded rolls aside on a dry paper towel. Or you can coat the rolls 1 to 2 hours in advance of frying, cover them lightly with paper towels, seal them with plastic wrap, and then refrigerate them until time to cook them.
You will need oil to a depth of at least 2 1/2 inches in the pan. I find that a wok, narrow at the base and wider at the top, is the best implement for this. Add the oil and heat to 375 degrees F on a deep-frying thermometer. Or test the oil with a pinch of bread crumbs to which some of the egg wash still clings. The crumbs should sizzle gently on the surface, coloring very slowly. If the crumbs sink, the oil is not hot enough. If the crumbs sizzle on the surface and begin to color rapidly, the oil is too hot.
Working in batches, add the breaded rolls a few at a time and fry undisturbed for about 2 1/2 minutes, turning them only once at the midway point. They should be golden brown and firm. To test for doneness, lift out a roll and insert a toothpick through the center of it. If liquid appears around the tiny hole, it should be clear. If it is tinged with pink, fry the rolls for another 20 to 30 seconds. Transfer the rolls to paper towels to drain.
If you wish to eat the rolls hot as a featured dish, cut each roll in half and serve immediately. If you wish to serve them at room temperature packed into a lunch box or as an appetizer, let them cool completely on a paper towel–lined rack away from drafts. For appetizers or a lunch box, insert decorative toothpicks into the rolls, then cut each in half or thirds.
FOR THE LEEK MISO:
Place the leek in a strainer and rinse briefly in cold water to make sure that no dirt is trapped among the pieces. Drain well and pat dry with paper towels.
Heat the oil in a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the leek and sauté for 1 minute, or until translucent and aromatic. Add the miso, mirin, and sugar and stir for about 1 minute, or until bubbly. Add the stock and continue to cook, stirring and scraping down the sides with a wooden spoon or spatula, for 2 or 3 minutes, until the sauce becomes glossy and the consistency of tomato paste.
Remove from the heat and let cool completely. Transfer to a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid and store in the refrigerator for up to 6 weeks.
Recipe reprinted by permission of Ten Speed Press. All rights reserved.
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