THE PLAIN GENIUS OF MENCHI KATSU SANDO
IT HITS JUST THE RIGHT SPOT, ONE OF THE FEW LEFT IN OUR HYPER-STIMULATED MINDS THESE DAYS, WHERE IT STILL ACCEPTS OR EVEN CRAVES PURITY
As we know that there are plenty for the taking, but this is perhaps – as far as I know and hopefully true – Jason’s most obsessed of all perverse Japanese creations, the menchi katsu.
Menchi, meaning “minced”, and katsu, is anything “breaded and fried”.
It exists in many different forms and spirits, each and one of them equally bizarre to the conventional wisdoms of the west, but one in particular, the menchi katsu sando / fried ground pork patty sandwich, will send many scratching their heads inside a Japanese convenience store. That is because its pure genius can only be realized upon one fateful encounter – one that reflects truly on its seemly simple but in fact, delicate preparations, and the childish yet complex satisfaction it plays on your tastebuds – which, unfortunately, can be a rare occurrence outside of Japan. Actually, outside of Japan, this idea sounds more desperate than anything else. Why do we want to fry a disk of ground pork – by the way, an almost comically massive disk of ground pork – then leave it with nothing else, and I mean absolutely nothing else, but just some tangy brown sauce in between two pieces of flimsy, flappy white breads? You’ll question its painful simplicity, whether is from desperation, or, by choice. Why not add something else to it? Tomato? Bacon? Cheese? Fried egg? Jalapeno? Two hotdogs and a jug of Bloody Mary with a mini umbrella? Come on, anything, anything to satisfy this North American instinct to pile shit up.
I can’t explain it to you. You’ll have to experience it.
But I can’t take you to Japan. I can only bring the recipe home.
This recipe is my very controlled but slightly adapted, and perhaps,, in my opinion, enhanced version of the original. And when I say that, I’m mostly referring to the katsu sauce. Slight variations on this sauce are applied to a vast number of different dishes in Japan, like okonomiyaki and takoyaki to name a few. But most of the recipe in English that I found online is, well, lacking, if not insulting. Ketchup plus worchestire sauce, basically, with some soy sauce and sugar? Please. The sauce is much more complex and deserving of our respect than that, which requires several different angles of acidity and sweetness that adds up to be more than the sum of its parts. There is a depth that, I feel, cannot be achieve with the conventional balance between vinegar and sugar, which is where “fruitiness” comes in aid. Prunes. Blended into the sauce, they built volume and flavours into the back-note, then pounded and added as a thin film in between the sandwich, they added textures and subtle sweetness. This sauce plays brilliantly with the fatty richness – 35% fat if I failed to mention – of the menchi katsu, and brought both a voluptuous sort of moisture and adhesiveness to all parties.
You’ll realize why you don’t want to do anything else to it. It hits juuust the right spot, one of the few left within our hyper-stimulated minds these days, where still accepts or even craves purity.
This is not just a slapped-on emergency sustenance. There are thoughts and wisdoms, upon many generations, that evolved and stripped it down to its now, brilliant plainness. If you are going to make it into a Big Mac, at least call it something else.
You can use the katsu sauce also for takoyaki and okonomiyaki.
- 1/4 cup finely minced onions
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 tsp olive oil
- 8~9 (85 grams) pitted prunes
- 1 clove garlic, peeled
- 1/4 cup +2 tbsp (90 grams) water
- 1/4 cup (60 grams) balsamic vinegar
- 1/4 cup (60 grams) mirin/Japanese sweet rice wine
- 3 tbsp (51 grams) tomato paste
- 3 tbsp (45 grams) soy sauce
- 2 tbsp (32 grams) yellow mustard
- 1 tbsp (15 grams) worchestire sauce
- 2 tsp light brown sugar
- 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
- 1/4 + 1/8 tsp ground allspice
- a pinch of ground clove and ground cumin
- 16 oz (460 grams) ground pork, preferably 30~35% fat
- 1/3 cup (50 grams) finely minced onion
- 2 tsp cornstarch
- 3/4 tsp sea salt
- 1/8 tsp ground white pepper
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- 2 cups Japanese panko breadcrumbs
- enough canola oil for frying
- 4 slices of white bread
- 6~8 pitted prunes
- Dijon mustard
- PRUNE KATSU SAUCE: In a sauce pot over medium-low heat, cook minced onions with salt and olive oil, stirring often, until the onions are dark brown, caramelized and soft. Transfer the onions into a blender, along with all of the rest of the ingredients, then blend for 1 minute until smoothly pureed. Transfer back into the pot and simmer over medium-low heat (cover partially with lid to avoid splatters), stirring often, until it has reduced slightly, about 15 min. Can be made several days in advance and kept in the fridge.
- PREPARE MENCHI KATSU: Gently and evenly mix ground pork, finely minced onion, cornstarch, sea salt and ground white pepper together. Divide into 2 equal balls, and throw it back and forth your palms to force out any air pockets inside, then place on a piece of parchment. Form into two square patties the same size as the sliced white bread, and flash-freeze for 30 min to firm up.
- Place the all-purpose flour, beaten eggs, and panko breadcrumbs in three separate large containers. Season each slightly with salt and white pepper. Drench one patty in the flour, making sure it's evenly covered on every sides, then coat it evenly with beaten egg, making sure the egg is sticking to every nooks and crannies of the patty, then place the patty over the breadcrumbs. Use your hands to gently scoop the breadcrumbs over the patty to cover all surfaces, then turn the patty over and repeat, until it's completely covered and breaded. Repeat with the other patty. Leave them inside the breadcrumbs for at least 10 min for the coating to hydrate, while you heat up the oil.
- TO FRY AND ASSEMBLE THE SANDWICH: Add enough canola oil in a frying pot until it reaches 2"/5 cm deep. Heat over medium-high heat until it bubbles up immediately and enthusiastically around an inserted wooden chopstick. Gently lower one breaded patty (do one at a time pls) into the hot oil, then lower the heat down to medium-low. Fry until golden browned on all sides, then transfer over a cooling rack to drain. Repeat with the other patty.
- Let the patty cool for 10 min. Meanwhile, place pitted prunes in between 2 parchments, then with a meat-pounder, pound them until they're flattened out and broken. Trim off the sides of the white breads. On both sides of the sandwich, apply a generous smear of the katsu sauce. Then on one side, place 3~4 flattened prunes, and on the other, a little smear of Dijon mustard. Place the patty in between, then cut into 3 equal chunks. Serve immediately.