My love for sweet bean paste has been well documented in this column; this time I’ll share my next-greatest weakness: fried foods—particularly breaded pork cutlets. Those served at Ponta Honke in Ueno, a specialist in Western-style dishes since 1905, are light in color and refined in taste. Fourth-generation owner Yoshihiko Shimada tells us more.
Full-Flavored Pork Cutlets
My grandfather, who worked in the Imperial Household Ministry kitchens preparing Western-style meals, started this restaurant as a place to enjoy non-Japanese recipes with rice. In those days, Western-style foods were a luxury, so he catered to special occasions, preparing customized menus for each party on a reservations-only basis. Sometime after the mid-1920s, he added a la carte dishes to the menu, with a set of aka-dashi miso soup, rice, and pickles as an optional side order, just as we offer today.
We trim all the rib-side fat from our pork cuts, using only the lean, tender loin meat. In reviews of fried pork, one often sees comments about the sweetness or quality of the fat as a decisive factor in determining the flavor, but we take a different view.
Since the cooking times for fat and muscle differ, no matter how tasty the fat you’ll wind up with overcooked meat if the two are fried together. That’s why, just as my grandfather did, we trim off the fat first, render it as lard, and use that to fry the cuts. Deepfrying with lard is tricky, but it recaptures some of that rich savory taste while the meat itself stays perfectly tender.
In other words, lard is to our cutlets what vinegar is to sushi rice. No matter high-quality its fish topping may be, no sushi will taste good if its rice base is not properly prepared. So it is with pork; the flavor imparted by the frying medium makes all the difference.
Our cutlets are blond in color because we start them off at a relatively low temperature, taking care to keep the coating closely wrapped around the meat.
We think you’ll be surprised at just how light a dish like fried pork can be. We serve it with shredded raw cabbage that we first separate leaf by leaf, pound once, and then cut perpendicular to the veins for a softer, less crunchy bite.
Since our aim is to serve Western-style dishes that complement rice, we make our beef stew with less wine than is typical, adding instead a bit of soy sauce for flavor. And we use only Kuroge Wagyu for our tongue stew. This has become increasingly harder to source, but it’s got an aroma and flavor all its own. Our sauce is three weeks in the making, so we like to encourage our customers to savor each bite. We have quite a lot of shellfish and seafood on the menu too, both deep-fried and sautéed with butter.