Adapted from Namiko Chen’s Chicken Cheese Katsu
In recent years, I’ve been exposed to a variety of Japanese dishes (washoku) by my fiancé, who had lived in Japan for four years before we met in grad school. One of my favorites quickly became katsu in any form. Basically a breaded and fried cutlet, usually made of pork or chicken,* the crispy panko exterior and juicy interior are delicious and somehow nostalgic, a kind of comfort food you realize you’ve needed your whole life. This chicken-cheese katsu takes the game to a whole new level by gushing forth rich, gooey cheese when you cut into them. This works great for an entrée, but would also make a fun appetizer or hors d’ouevres.
Although provolone cheese melts the best in my experience, you can use whatever cheese you like for the filling. Mozzarella, cheddar cheese, gouda, or gruyere are all great options.
*Although it can also be made with beef, tofu, or even vegetables.
8 boneless skinless chicken breast tenderloins*
Salt, freshly ground black pepper, and garlic powder to taste
½ lb provolone, cut into 1”-thick strips
4 cups neutral oil (such as canola or vegetable)
¼ cup flour
1 TBSP white pepper
1 tsp MSG (optional)
2 large eggs, beaten
1 cup panko
Shredded napa or savoy cabbage, to serve
Tonkatsu sauce, to serve (optional)
Flaky sea salt, to serve (optional)
*Or 8 boneless skinless chicken thighs, pounded as thinly as possible with a meat mallet
Season both sides of the chicken thighs with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Place a strip of cheese on each chicken thigh, near the edge, then tightly roll the chicken around it. The cheese should be fully covered by the chicken and not visible, or it will melt out during frying. If the roll doesn’t feel super secure, you can pin it closed with a toothpick—just remember to remove the toothpick before eating.
Heat the oil in a large cast iron skillet over medium high heat. The oil is up to temperature once small bubbles float off of the top of a chopstick when inserted (about 340F). While the oil is heating, place into three separate, shallow bowls following: the flour, white pepper, and MSG; the beaten eggs; and the panko. Working with one chicken-cheese roll at a time, dredge in the flour, then the egg, then the panko.
Gently add half the chicken-cheese rolls to the oil in the skillet and cook for three minutes per side, turning once (if you have a particularly thick roll, it may need a little more time than that). Cut into one of the katsu to check that they’re cooked through before removing the rest and adding the second batch. Transfer the cooked katsu to a wire rack to drain. You may need to use a fine-mesh skimmer to remove loose panko from the skillet in between batches, so that the panko doesn’t burn and the katsu don’t get too dark.
Serve immediately, sliced in half on a bias and placed on top of thinly sliced cabbage. You may want tonkatsu sauce on the side for dipping; I like to do just a sprinkle of flaked sea salt on top of the katsu.