Thursday, November 12, 2009

Frying and Baking

I talk about tonkatsu (돈까스) a lot, I know. (It's really pronounced dohn-kkat-su, at least in Korean, which is just a transliteration of the Japanese word.) I mention it because I love it so dearly, a trait I inherited from my father.

For me, though, tonkatsu is not something to make at home. I am very averse to using a large amount of oil in my house. Not for the health reasons, no. Because I hate, hate, cleaning up after cooking with oil. Droplets of sizzling hot oil can coat an entire kitchen like no other substance I have ever seen before. It grosses me out to such an extent that I cannot fry things at home, no matter how much I love fried foods (and I do).

So! What's the answer? Make my mother do the frying, of course! She is a good sport about making major messes in her kitchen, and my dad got quite the puppy-dog look when he heard the word "tonkatsu" being tossed around. After the seafood-laden lunch and before the boxed-cake-mix dessert on Saturday, my mother made tonkatsu. I took photos and made breaded, baked eggplant, which I love.

Breaded, Baked Eggplant

Serves 3
About 40 minutes, depending on how you like your eggplant cooked

3 Japanese eggplants (or, if I'm being pretentious, aubergines), washed and cut in half lengthwise
salt or garlic salt
2 tablespoons flour in a wide dish
1 egg, beaten in a wide dish
1/4 cup Panko or regular breadcrumbs in a wide dish

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Wash the eggplants, cut them in half lengthwise, then sprinkle a little salt on their cut sides. Place them, cut-side down, into a colander or strainer with a bowl underneath. This brings out some of the moisture in the eggplant and makes them less bitter. With smaller and Japanese eggplant, you don't have to do this long. With those big honking hulks, this is very necessary, as they are quite bitter.

Here's my assembly line of flour, egg, and Panko (larger, flakier breadcrumbs, sold under many different names. But I called tissues Kleenex and I call big, airy breadcrumbs Panko). It looks like a lot because we used it for both the eggplants and the tonkatsu. And my measurements in the ingredient list are totally bogus, I'm just guessing (shh!).

Cover the eggplant with flour- you'll need to rub the flour onto them, especially the skinned side. Dust off the excess, then dip the eggplant in the egg. Let the excess drip off, then press the eggplant into the breadcrumbs. I find that regular breadcrumbs (I like the Italian seasoned ones) stick better than Panko. With the Panko, I use my hands and forcibly press the crumbs into the egg.

Place the eggplant on a rack over a baking sheet and bake them for about 20 minutes for firm eggplant that just gives to a fork (the way I like it), or longer if you like broken, mushy eggplant.

It's a lovely and very easy side dish, I find. I especially like it with Italian-flavored breadcrumbs with Parmesan cheese on top- just a little bit, since eggplant is pretty mild (especially the Japanese eggplant that I favor).

If I wasn't such a frying sissy, I would probably fry these little buggers up. But I don't fry, so the oven is my friend.

Tonkatsu (돈까스)

Serves 3
About 40 minutes

3 thin pork cutlets, pounded out to 1/4" thickness
salt or garlic salt
2 tablespoons of flour in a wide dish
1 egg, beaten in a wide dish
1/4 cup of Panko in a wide dish (regular breadcrumbs won't work here)
oil for frying (something light-colored, like vegetable or Canola)

Same steps as the eggplant- dust in flour, dip in egg, press into Panko. Very easy, just annoying to wash all those dishes after the fact.

Heat up about 1/4" of oil in a pan over medium-high heat. Once the oil is hot (it should be shimmering with tiny wisps of smoke coming out), add in the breaded cutlets.

They can crowd, but should not overlap. Fry for about 5 or 6 minutes, or until the first side is pretty and brown and delicious-looking. Try not to disturb the pork, because the breading is pretty delicate until it gets fried up. Flip and fry for another 3 or 4 minutes, or until the pork is cooked through. My test for cooked pork is to take a wooden chopstick and stab it. If the chopstick goes in easily and nothing pink oozes out, it's done.

Drain the tonkatsu on paper towels- even though we use much less oil than the average home fryer, it's still quite a bit of the stuff.

Serve warm. It's actually much better a bit cooler- not that great when it's piping hot. All types of meat benefit from resting, I think.

We also had zucchini- cut it into slabs and put it in a hot pan without any oil, searing the outside and keeping the inside pretty raw. The zucchini got piled into a shallow bowl and drizzled with soy sauce.

Unattractive, stupidly simple, but so yummy. I have an undying love for zucchini- I can eat it every day. Even as a kid, I loved the stuff. My mother tells me about how I used to be able to eat an endless amount of zucchini fritter-pancake things (호박전, hobak-jeon) as a child, favoring it to all the other kinds of jeon (I do love kimchi jeon, though).

Tonkatsu, breaded and baked eggplant, and quick-fried zucchini with soy sauce. It was really good and not as unhealthy as all that breading and frying would indicate. 


william November 13, 2009 at 2:31 AM  

i. love. tonkatsu. i would eat it every day if i could.

Diana E. November 13, 2009 at 3:12 AM  

oh that eggplant and zucchini look GOOOOOOOD...

Hey... you'll probably know this. What's the name of that cold eggplant side dish with sesame? It's very light, and I want to figure out how to make it because I have had a mad craving for it since I got out of the hospital and couldn't find it already made at E-mart or the 시장.

jeanny November 13, 2009 at 7:44 AM  

William, thank goodness I hate frying, otherwise I WOULD eat tonkatsu every day!

Diana, I think you're talking about 가지 나물? (Eggplant namul.)

Steam or saute halved eggplant, cool it, and drain the liquid out. Cut the eggplant up, add soy sauce, sesame oil, sesame seed, whatever else you like (I like some fish sauce).

Steaming makes for a prettier dish, but I think sauteing tastes better- plus it keeps more of the moisture in the eggplant.

Good luck- hope that's what you were looking for!

Diana E. November 13, 2009 at 4:21 PM  

that sounds about right. :) Thanks. I'll give it a shot next week. This week I'm experimenting with lentils!

jeanny November 13, 2009 at 4:44 PM  

Good luck!

I love lentils. Especially little French lentils. With carrots and onions and bits of ham ... mmm ...