Donkas Deopbap: Korean Pork Cutlet and Rice Bowl
Donkas has a pretty cool history. Technically, it is a Korean adaptation of a Japanese food called tonkatsu, while tonkatsu, in turn, is an adaptation of Austrian schnitzel. The name comes from the Chinese character for pig — ton or don — and katsu or kas is a reworking of the “cut” in “cutlet”, based on the Japanese pronunciation of the word. The concept of the pork cutlet made its way to Japan in the late 19th century, where it underwent a few changes. Japanese style pork cutlets are not pounded as thin as schnitzel, and they are cut into strips before serving to make them easier to eat with chopsticks. The breadcrumbs that are used are also much coarser. Generally, Japanese style cutlets are served with thinly shredded cabbage, rice and a potent adaptation of Worcestershire sauce (with various ingredients added, such as ketchup, sugar or oyster sauce) that is dark and shiny.
Japanese style cutlets are widely available in Korea, but Koreans have made a few changes of their own. Some places have reverted back to a more Western style, pounding the cutlet out to make wang-donkas (“king pork cutlets”) and serving them whole with a fork and knife rather than chopsticks. While Japanese cutlets are usually served with the sauce on the side for dipping, some Korean places slather it on top.
The sauce is also a bit different — there are many, many variations, but many Korean versions use a roux made with butter and wheat or rice flour as their base, with the addition of various other ingredients such as ketchup, soy sauce and sugar. Donkas sauce recipes are one of those things that successful restaurants tend to keep as closely guarded secrets. I add garlic and barbecue sauce to mine. Everyone should have their own version.
And then there’s donkas deopbap.
There are many, many kinds of deopbap in Korea. The word comes from deopda, the verb for “cover” and bap, which means rice. In other words, rice covered with something. Donkas deopbap usually consists of a breaded and fried pork cutlet which has been returned to the frying pan and slightly (or entirely) covered with a scrambled egg and sauteed vegetables (usually oyster mushrooms, onions and green onions), served on top of a bowl of rice and topped with donkas sauce.
I’ve been pretty true to the original, opting to put the egg and vegetables off to the side — putting both the egg and the sauce on top of the cutlet with the steamy hot rice underneath turns it too soggy for my liking. I did add some shallots since I had them on hand, but between the onions and green onions topping the egg, the garlic in the sauce and the chives I garnished with, I don’t think their flavor really came through in any significant way.
There are a lot of steps involved in making donkas deopbap, but I think it’s well worth it. When you throw it all together in a bowl, you’ve got an entire complex meal with rich and balanced flavors right there in the palm of your hand.
- 2 pork cutlets, scored and slightly pounded*
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cup breadcrumbs
- 4 eggs, scrambled
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 white onion, cut in half and sliced thinly
- 2 green onions, chopped
- 2 bunches oyster mushrooms
- 1 tablespoon chives, chopped
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 3 tablespoons ketchup
- 2 tablespoons barbecue sauce
- 3 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons white or brown sugar
- 1 cup water
- *If you ask your butcher for 돈가스용 돼지고기 (donkas-yong dwaeji-gogi -- pork for making donkas), the butcher will probably score and pound it out for you.
- Combine the salt and pepper and gently rub the spices on both sides of the cutlets. Place the flour, two of the eggs and the breadcrumbs each in separate shallow bowls. Heat the vegetable oil over medium high heat in a skillet. Cover the cutlets with flour, then egg and finally breadcrumbs, making sure all sides and edges are well covered. When the oil is hot enough to sizzle like crazy when a drop of water is added, put the cutlets in the pan. Cook them on one side for about 3-4 minutes, or until they are golden brown and then turn them and cook them for the same on the other side. Remove the cutlets from the pan and allow the to cool on a paper towel.
- In a separate pan, saute the onions and mushrooms over high heat for 2-3 minutes. Remove to a paper towel to cool.
- When the cutlets are cooled, slice them into 4 or 5 pieces horizontally. Scramble the other two eggs in a bowl and reheat the skillet to medium heat. Gently place one sliced cutlet back into the pan to one side and pour half of the scrambled eggs into the other side of the pan, making sure the egg overlaps the cutlet a little. Top the egg with half of the the sauteed onions and mushrooms and green onion. Allow to cook for 2-3 minutes, or until the egg is cooked through. Carefully remove the cutlet and egg from the pan and transfer to a bowl of white rice. Repeat the whole process with the other cutlet.
- Add the butter to a small skillet over medium heat. When the butter is melted, add the flour and whisk until the butter and flour are combined and all lumps are removed. Add the ketchup, barbecue sauce, soy sauce, garlic, sugar and water and whisk until all the ingredients are well combined. Cook over medium heat while whisking often for 7-8 minutes or until the sauce has thickened. Top the cutlet bowl with the sauce and garnish with chives.
Freelance writer and editor. American in Seoul. I write about Korean food. I blog about all food. Last year I wrote a monthly column about traveling to different places around the country to explore Korean ingredients and cuisine. This ignited my interest in local foods and cooking, which I blog about regularly now. I also blog restaurant and cafe recommendations, recipes and some background and history about Korean food.