Food & Culture

Anatomy of a dish: the katsu sando

The katsu sando is turning up on menus everywhere. But what are its essential elements? We take it apart.

By Lisa Featherby

The katsu sando is one of the most delicious highlights in Japan's storied history of adapting Western foods. A glorious union of Portuguese technique, Central European tradition, a beautiful Japanese misunderstanding of the purpose of Worcestershire sauce and a taste for bread developed during US occupation, the katsu sando takes a crumbed pork cutlet (or chicken), mayo and tonkatsu sauce and piles it all together between sliced white. A true international superstar.

Here, we break down the elements that make up a great katsu sandwich.

1. The bread

Japanese white bread is as good as it gets: pillowy, slightly sweet, springy, and usually enriched with butter and sometimes milk. Bakery chain Breadtop sells it, but a supermarket white works, too. And the crusts? Cut them off.

2. The meat

The pork version, made with loin or tenderloin, is straight-up tonkatsu ('ton' means pork), but chicken katsu is common and prawn is popular, as are eggplant or even cheese. Score the meat to stop it curling; an evenly cooked slab is the goal. Brining, as well as using rare-breed pork, such as kurobuta (which has a high fat content), will give the juiciest results.

3. The crumbing

Japan did the world a favour when it invented panko; there's no excuse for using anything else. Dip and dredge like usual, then press the meat into the crumbs and fry for an extra crisp golden crust. 170°C is the sweet spot.

4. The cabbage

Thinly sliced white cabbage is often included in the sando or it might be served on the side, providing a counterbalance to the rich fried meat. A Japanese mandolin (another great invention) will help get it extra fine.

5. The sauces

Tonkatsu sauce was made to imitate Worcestershire sauce, believed to be the Western version of soy sauce. Made with fruits, vegetables, vinegar and spices, it's sweeter and more viscous than the original, and adds piquancy to the sando. Look for the Bull-Dog brand. Japanese mayo (try Kewpie or Kenko) caps it off.

Where to find one

Sydney
For classic versions we like Oratnek, new kid on the block Sando and, on weekends, Paper Bird. Devon Café offers katsus of the salmon and prawn variety, while Rising Sun Workshop does fried eggplant in a bun. Meanwhile, at Sandoitchi a trio of former Long Chim staff is turning out sandwiches loaded with pickled carrots, nori, cheese and tonkatsu-spiked mayo.

Oratnek 4 Pitt St, Redfern, (02) 8394 9550, oratnek.com.au

Sando 226 Commonwealth St, Surry Hills, no phone, sandobar.com.au

Paper Bird 46a Macleay St, Potts Point, (02) 9326 9399, paperbird.com

Devon Café sandwiches available at Barangaroo and North Sydney only: Shop 19, 200 Barangaroo Avenue, Barangaroo (02) 9262 4660, 36 Blue St, North Sydney, (02) 8971 0377, devoncafe.com.au

Rising Sun Workshop** 1c Whateley St, Newtown, (02) 9550 3891, risingsunworkshop.com*

Sandoitchi Shop 3/113-115 Oxford Street, Darlinghurst

Melbourne
Cutler & Co does an abalone version of the katsu sando.

Cutler & Co** 55-57 Gertrude St, Fitzroy, (03) 9419 4888, cutlerandco.com.au*

Adelaide
Why not up the stakes with Shobsho's pork meatball number?

Shobosho** 17 Leigh St, Adelaide, (08) 8366 2224, shobosho.com.au*