Can we make a healthy, plant-based alternative to pork with tofu?
The pork katsu is a staple of Japanese cooking, and it isn’t hard to figure out why. You can’t deny the appeal of a juicy, crispy, deep-fried pork cutlet (unless you don’t eat pork). Over a bed of rice with eggs, as the main dish to a set meal, in a sandwich, as a topping for curry, even chilled over cold ramen…honestly, katsu is good no matter how you eat it.
Sadly, pork katsu is, by no means, healthy food. Deep-fried as it is, it’s greasy, high-fat, and high-calorie, and the use of red meat ups the fat and cholesterol levels. So if you’re trying to watch what you eat, what can you do when you get that craving?
We did some searching online and found a vegan recipe on TikTok that replaces the pork with tofu and doesn’t even use eggs or milk to make it. Pork, eggs, and milk are staple ingredients in pork katsu, so we were somewhat dubious about how well it would work, but on the other hand, if it did work, we’d have a great low-calorie, plant-based alternative to one of our favorite foods! With the potential reward outweighing the risk, we decided to give the recipe a try.
Ingredients (for two servings)
・1 block of firm tofu (about 300 grams/10.6 ounces)
・4 tbsp flour
・4 tbsp plant-based milk (we used soy)
・50 grams (1.8 oz) panko bread crumbs
・A sprinkling of salt and pepper
Before preparing your tofu katsu, make sure to drain it well. When it’s dry, cut it lengthwise through the middle until you have two thin blocks. Add the salt and pepper to the flour, then dip one block in the flour, coating it on both sides. Next, dip it in the soy milk, then coat both sides with panko bread crumbs.
We were worried that the bread crumbs wouldn’t stick to the tofu without the binding agent provided by the eggs, but it actually coated the tofu nicely without any particular extra work from us, which was a major relief.
Next, we dropped the breaded tofu block into hot oil. Frying tofu katsu was easier than cooking pork katsu, because we didn’t have to worry about the outside burning while the meat was still raw inside. All we had to do was wait until the skin got nice and golden brown on both sides, and then we could scoop it right out without worrying about whether the inside was cooked enough!
Like regular pork katsu, make sure to drain your freshly fried tofu katsu on a wire rack to keep it from holding too much oil.
When it was ready, we cut it into three pieces with a knife. It made a really satisfying crunching noise, indicating we’d done a good job frying it. From the outside, it really looked like a pork katsu! But how would it taste?
We wasted no time in testing it. We quickly reheated some leftover vegetable curry we’d made earlier, paired it with rice, and put the pork katsu on top. The presentation was, once again, pretty convincing. We scooped up a piece of tofu katsu and took a bite…
Oh! The crispy skin was perfect. Exactly like tonkatsu. But while it had a similar scent to pork katsu thanks to the crispy skin, the flavor was all tofu. It wasn’t a bad thing; in fact, the faint salt and pepper seasonings really brought out the mild flavor of the tofu.
Unfortunately, where it lacked the most was the texture. Tofu isn’t juicy like a pork cutlet but fluffy and soft, so it didn’t feel substantial enough to be a true replacement. It also wasn’t very filling. It definitely needed to be paired with something else in order for us to feel satisfied after eating it.
Together with the curry we’d prepared, though, it made a really great meal! Plus, the crispy batter of the tofu katsu paired amazingly well with the flavor of the curry, which really gave us pork katsu curry vibes. So in the end, this may be a poor substitute for a pork katsu on its own, but it makes a great topping for curry. If you’re vegan or striving for more plant-based food in your life, it’s a great option. And it’s an extremely cheap recipe, so it’s great for those on a budget, too!
Just remember that not all tofu is the same…so you’ll probably want to experiment and find the best brand for tofu katsu!