Japanese-style chicken cutlets are cooked to crispy perfection in the air fryer in this simple weeknight dinner recipe. A light and crunchy panko coating differentiates “katsu” from the western “cutlet”. Serve alongside freshly-steamed rice, finely-shredded cabbage and smoky-sweet-savoury tonkatsu sauce. This is an easy and comforting meal to add into your repertoire.
Note 1: The cabbage should be very finely shredded – much more fine than western coleslaw. Use a mandolin or a very sharp knife to achieve best results.
Note 2: Tonkatsu sauce is a thick dark-brown sauce served with tonkatsu, Japanese pork cutlet, or any Japanese-style cutlet like this chicken katsu. It often includes pureed tomatoes, prunes, dates, apples, lemon juice, carrots, onions, celery. The most notable Japanese brands of tonkatsu sauce is Bull-Dog and Kikkoman. If you can’t find tonkatsu sauce, there are simplified recipes on the internet using ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, oyster sauce and brown sugar.
Note 3: I use an inexpensive Japanese mortar and pestle (suribachi and surikogi) to grind the toasted sesame seeds for 15-20 seconds. Add it into the tonkatsu sauce for an aromatic variation: sesame tonkatsu sauce.
Butterfly each chicken breast into two thinner pieces. Place chicken pieces between plastic food wrap. Using a meat mallet, pound to tenderize to ½-inch thick. You can also use the flat bottom of a small pot if you don’t have a meat mallet – the important thing is to pound them equally thick so they cook evenly.
Season both sides with salt to taste. Ideally, rest salted chicken breasts in the fridge as long as you can, up to overnight, for better flavour and texture.
Prepare breading station by setting out three shallow bowls. Fill each of the three bowls with flour, egg and panko, respectively. Bread each chicken piece as follows: (1) dredge in flour, shaking off excess. (2) dip in whisked egg, shaking off excess. (3) coat with panko, pressing gently with fingertips to adhere all over onto both sides.
Tip: to avoid breading your fingertips, use one hand to handle dry ingredients (flour, panko) and the other hand the wet ingredient (egg).
Preheat air fryer to 375°F. Place breaded chicken pieces – in batches so as not to overcrowd – inside air fryer basket. Spray top with oil. Air fry at 375°F for 8 minutes or until golden brown. Flip, spray other side with oil, and air fry for another 3-4 minutes or until center is no longer pink. Do not overcook or the chicken will dry out (I prefer the underside to be less golden brown to ensure the chicken isn’t overcooked)! Rest on wire rack while repeating with remaining pieces.
Toss finely shredded cabbage with dressing (the cabbage requires only an ever-so-light coating of dressing or else it can get soggy quickly). Cut cutlets into 1-inch slices. Serve with rice, cabbage and tonkatsu sauce drizzled on top or on the side. Enjoy right away.