Eric Akis: Chicken sandwich, Japanese style

Eric Akis

Chicken katsu is a Japanese-style panko-coated piece of fried chicken that’s become a popular dish around the world. It’s easy to understand why — it’s crispy on the outside, juicy in the middle and served with a flavourful sauce (or two).

It’s essentially a breaded chicken cutlet that could be sliced and served with side dishes. But in recent years, it’s also become a very popular thing to stuff into a sandwich, what I did in today’s recipe.

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To make my sandwiches, large, boneless, skinless chicken thighs are pounded until fairly thin. They are coated in flour, dipped into a beaten egg mixture, then thickly coated with panko, coarse Japanese-style breadcrumbs.

In restaurants, the chicken katsu is often deep-fried once coated. But in my recipe, I opted to shallow-fry it in oil in a skillet until golden, crispy and cooked through.

Many recipes for chicken katsu sandwiches ask you to use a soft style of sliced white bread — something you can easily bite through to get to the flavourful chicken inside.

I instead chose to use a tender hamburger bun, which I find yields a more attractive-looking sandwich.

That said, you likely wouldn’t be looking at the sandwich long before devouring it. That’s because the chicken is flavoured with two addictive sauces. One is a fresh ginger-flavoured mayo that you spread on the cut sides of the buns.

The other is tonkatsu sauce, a kind of Japanese-style barbecue sauce that you drizzle on the chicken. You can buy that sauce at Japanese food stores and in the Asian-foods aisle of some grocery stores, but I made my own simple version.

You can coat the chicken and make the sauces many hours before cooking the chicken and making the sandwiches. Keep everything refrigerated until needed. You could also do the same with the cucumber and radish quick pickles I served with the sandwiches.

Chicken Katsu Sandwiches

Japanese-style chicken that’s crunchy on the outside and juicy in the middle stuffed into buns with two flavourful sauces and refreshing lettuce. The panko needed for the chicken is sold in grocery stores, often in the Asian-foods aisle.

Preparation time: 40 minutes
Cooking time: Six minutes
Makes: Four servings

For ginger mayo (see Eric’s options)

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1 tsp finely grated fresh ginger

2 tsp soy sauce

2 tsp rice or cider vinegar

1 tsp granulated sugar or honey, or to taste

1/2 tsp sesame oil

Combine ingredients in a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate until needed.

For tonkatsu sauce

3 Tbsp ketchup

1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce

1 tsp soy sauce

1/2 tsp granulated sugar or honey

Combine ingredients in a small bowl (see Eric’s options). Cover and refrigerate until needed.

For chicken katsu sandwiches

4 large boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 325 to 350 grams)

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 large eggs

1/4 cup milk

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

1 3/4 cups panko

• vegetable oil, for frying

4 tender hamburger buns, split and warmed

1 cup shredded head or leaf lettuce, or to taste

Set a chicken thigh flat on a work surface, smooth-side-down. Cover with a double layer of plastic wrap. Using a kitchen hammer, pound chicken until it’s about 1/4-inch thick, then set on a plate (see Eric’s options). Pound the other chicken thighs this way. Season the chicken with salt and pepper.

Place eggs and milk in a bowl large enough to dunk the chicken in and beat to combine. Place flour and panko in separate wide plates. Set out a baking sheet to set the chicken on once coated.

Coat one chicken thigh in flour. Dip it in the egg mixture, evenly coating it. Coat chicken in panko, thickly pressing it on. Set coated chicken on the baking sheet. Coat the remaining chicken thighs in this fashion.

Preheat oven to 225 F. Set out a second large baking sheet. Pour 1/4 inch or so of oil into a large skillet set over medium, medium-high heat.

When oil is hot, add two of the chicken katsu to the skillet and cook about three minutes per side, until golden and cooked through. (Keep a close eye on the chicken and lower the heat if it overly darkens as it cooks.)

Drain chicken katsu on paper towel, then set on the second clean baking sheet.

Cook the other two chicken katsu as you did the first two and set them on the baking sheet. Put chicken into the oven to keep warm.

Spread the cut sides of each bun generously with the ginger mayo. Top each bottom bun with some shredded lettuce.

Remove chicken katsu from the oven and, at a slight angle, cut each one, widthwise, in half. Now set two half pieces of chicken katsu on each bottom bun. Drizzle chicken katsu with the tonkatsu sauce. Set on top buns and serve.

Eric’s options: For spicy tonkatsu sauce, add sriracha or other spicy chili sauce, to taste.

If you don’t have a kitchen hammer, try using the bottom of a heavy skillet or rolling pin to pound the chicken thighs.

Cucumber and Radish Quick Pickles

Easy and quick sweet and tangy pickles you can serve with the chicken katsu sandwiches.

Preparation time: 15 minutes, plus salting time
Cooking time: A few minutes
Makes: About 1 1/2 cups

3/4 cup water

3 Tbsp rice or cider vinegar

2 tsp granulated sugar

1 cup thinly sliced radishes (see Note)

1 cup thinly sliced mini English cucumbers

1 tsp salt

Place water, vinegar and sugar in a small pot. Bring to a simmer over medium heat for 30 seconds, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Remove from the heat and cool vinegar mixture to room temperature.

Meanwhile, place radishes and cucumber in a fine sieve. Sprinkle with the salt and toss to coat the vegetables. Set sieve over a bowl or sink and let stand at room temperature 30 minutes.

When the 30 minutes are up, rinse the vegetables with cold water, drain well, then pat dry with paper towel. Place the vegetables in a two-cup jar. Pour in the vinegar mixture. Push on the vegetables to submerge them. Cover and refrigerate pickle until ready to serve with the chicken katsu sandwiches.

Note: About two mini cucumbers and 10 radishes, depending on size, should yield the amounts needed here.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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