Crunchy and juicy vegan cutlet!
Japanese cutlet (katsu – カツ) is usually made with pork and sometimes with chicken, but the basic recipe is the same. A piece of meat is coated with (1) flour, (2) egg, (3) bread crumbs and deep fried. It’s interesting how Japanese use the same exact method to deep fry seafood (like fish, shrimp, oyster, etc.) but we call it fry (フライ), not katsu…
Anyways, there are various ways to make vegan Japanese cutlet, but for this recipe, I’m using what is called koya dofu (高野豆腐). Koya dofu is tofu that has been frozen then dried. The freezing process creates a distinct spongy texture and the drying process condenses and packs in all the nutrients. Back in the old days when people didn’t have a refrigerator at home, this was a common way to preserve fresh tofu.
Koya dofu made with a traditional method requires soaking in hot water for it to soften before cooking. Today, most of the koya dofu products are made with baking soda to eliminate that “cumbersome” process (you can go right into the cooking process). So sadly, what you get most of the times, is this overly-spongy koya dofu that’s loaded with baking soda. I highly recommend buying koya dofu that uses organic (有機) soy beans and doesn’t use baking soda (重曹 or 膨軟剤)!
If you can’t find koya dofu in your country, you can also freeze firm tofu and defrost it (then squeeze the moisture out). It will have a similar spongy texture although it won’t quite have the same firmness as the koya dofu.
As koya dofu itself doesn’t really have much taste, it’s important to prepare it properly before going to the deep frying stage. After it’s been soaked in hot water (and softened), cook the koya dofu in 1 cup vegan dashi stock (kombu-based) or any veggie broth of your choice and 1 tablespoon shoyu-koji (or 1 tablespoon soy sauce and 1 tablespoon mirin). Cook until the dashi stock reduces to about half the original volume and let the koya dofu sit in the stock for a while. If you have no time, 20 min would do, but longer the better, so if you have time, you can even leave it overnight in the refrigerator.
Now we are ready to deep fry the koya dofu! First squeeze moisture out of the koya dofu.
As I mentioned in the beginning, for Japanese cutlet, you coat the meat with flour then egg then bread crumbs. Egg is what holds the bread crumbs in place, so you need a vegan substitute that’s gooey and glue-like. I would imagine you can use flax or chia meal mixed with water, but for this recipe, I’m using Japanese white yam (nagaimo – 長芋 or yamaimo – 山芋, nagaimo is more readily available at supermarkets but yamaimo is more gooey than nagaimo) which is slimy and gooey. I normally use a grater and grate the yam, but my skin is kind of sensitive and it gets itchy after handling the yam. Then I found this… yam powder!
This powder is mostly used for making okonomiyaki as the grated yam makes the batter fluffy. I’m using this as an egg substitute! Just mix the powder with water!
For the flour, you can use regular wheat flour or if you want to make it gluten-free, you can use rice powder. For the bread crumbs, I put wholewheat bread in my blender and pulsed it a few times to make homemade panko breadcrumbs but you can also use store-bought panko breadcrumbs or if you want to make it gluten-free, you can use crushed nuts of your choice.
Make sure you coat the koya dofu evenly in each layer so you don’t end up with cutlet that has “bald” spots!
Traditional way of making cutlet is deep frying it with lots of oil, but I’m pan frying it so it’s healthier and I don’t waste a lot of oil. For the oil, I’m using rice bran oil, but you can use olive oil too.
Bread crumbs are crunchy and koya dofu has nice firm, juicy texture… You can serve it with some salad and rice like Japanese cutlet, or you can make a sandwich with it. Yummm!!!