Make Chicken Katsu Your New Favorite Summer Sandwich

New Orleans executive chef Todd Pulsinelli shares his take on the Japanese classic

July 12, 2023 6:32 am
The Chloe's chicken katsu sandwich.
The chicken katsu sandwich is a hot item poolside at The Chloe in NOLA.
Brittany Conerly

We still don’t know which side fired the first shot of the Revolutionary War in April 1775, but there’s no doubt about the identity of the aggressor who drew first blood in the fried chicken sandwich wars of 2019. It was Popeyes and it was glorious.

While the warfare being waged with Popeyes by other chains, including KFC, Hardee’s and Chic-fil-A, largely involves buttermilk-battered weaponry served up with pickles and sauce on a brioche bun, there are plenty of other varieties of chicken sandwiches, and many of them have nothing whatsoever to do with American fast food chains.

One such variety would be the chicken katsu sandwich, an iconic Japanese comfort food that traces its roots back to a tonkatsu shop called Isen in Tokyo’s Shitaya district in the 1930s. Per the still-open shop, which previously specialized in breaded-and-fried chicken or pork cutlets, the female proprietor came up with the idea of sandwiching her eatery’s specialty dish between small slices of bread so that the multitude of geishas who worked in the area could quickly eat tonkatsu without ruining their lipstick. The rest, as they say, is history.

A Visual Tour of Nakatsu, The Mecca of Japanese Fried Chicken
There are more karaage (fried chicken) shops in Nakatsu on Kyushu than there are schools and convenience stores

Todd Pulsinelli, the executive chef at The Chloe, does not work in a geisha-friendly neighborhood. The New Orleans hotel/restaurant he presides over is located on tree-lined St. Charles Avenue in a 19th-century mansion, which boasts a spacious pool, a good wine list and an upscale tavern menu. On that menu, despite The Chloe’s location, resides a chicken katsu sandwich.

Pounded out flat before being breaded in panko bread crumbs and fried, Pulsinelli’s chicken is served on slices of white bread alongside French fries and topped with a bacon onion ranch marmalade. Per Pulsinelli, the marmalade is really what ties his take on a chicken katsu sandwich together.

“The sauce is what really makes it,” Pulsinelli tells InsideHook.”We cook a bunch of bacon and onions together and then add sherry, vinegar and brown sugar to that. After it all cooks down, we fold that into ranch dressing. We always say we have a ‘set it off’ kitchen and I think it’s definitely the sauce on the sandwich that sets it off and takes it to the next level. We try to apply that to almost every dish we do.”

Based on a slider Pulsinelli made for happy hour at a previous restaurant, The Chloe’s chicken katsu sandwich was designed to be eaten around the mansion’s pool as a lighter item at lunch. Still, diners may be wise to wait a half hour to take a dip after downing one of Pulsinelli’s chicken creations.

A chicken katsu sandwich.
The chicken katsu sandwich’s backstory isn’t what you think.
Brittany Conerly

“It’s two pieces of white bread with half of a pounded-out chicken breast, so it’s hearty but light too with just the right amount of lettuce and sauce,” he says. “We do just enough to balance the sandwich so it’s not becoming messy and falling apart. From acidity to fattiness to even having a crunchy texture, balance goes into every dish we do. Everything’s lined up to match so every bite is just as awesome as the first.”

And what’s that bite like? “You’re going to get sweet with a little bit of creamy, some acidity and a good crunch from the bread and the chicken itself. The chicken’s fried so fast it stays nice and moist. It’s a lot and hits all the notes.”

Here’s how to make it.

The Chloe's Chicken Katsu Sandwich

Prep Time: 35 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour

Servings: Two sandwiches

  • For the chicken:
  • Two 4 oz. chicken breasts, cleaned
  • 2 cups panko bread crumbs
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 whole egg
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • For the bacon-onion ranch marmalade:
  • 0.5 cup buttermilk
  • 0.5 cup sour cream
  • 0.25 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tsp. celery salt
  • 1 tbsp. garlic powder
  • 1 tbsp. onion powder
  • 1 dash hot sauce
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice
  • 4 strips bacon (chopped)
  • 1 large onion (small diced)
  • 0.5 cup sherry vinegar
  • 0.25 cup brown sugar
  • For the sandwich
  • 4 slices white bread
  • 2 cups shredded iceberg lettuce
  • 1/2 of a lemon
  • Finished bacon onion ranch marmalade
  • 2 breaded chicken breasts
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • Method for the chicken
    1. Place chicken breast on a clean cutting board. Cover with plastic wrap, then with a meat mallet pound the chicken breast till it’s evenly flat and about a quarter inch thick. Set in the fridge and set up a breading station.

    2. In three separate medium-sized shallow bowls, place the flour in one, egg and milk in one and the panko bread crumbs in the third. Whisk the egg and milk together. Next place them in order of flour, egg wash, and bread crumbs. Add salt and pepper to the flour and the bread crumbs.

    3. Place the breast into the flour and coat evenly, then place in the egg wash totally coated. Lastly, place the chicken into the bread crumb and coat evenly. Place the breaded chicken into the fridge until ready to cook.

  • Method for the bacon-onion ranch marmalade
    1. In a medium pan on high heat, add the bacon and cook till translucent. Add in the onion, vinegar and sugar. Simmer this mixture on low heat till almost all the liquid has evaporated, then place this mix into a medium mixing bowl and into the fridge to cool off.

    2. Once the mix has cooled off, add the rest of the ingredients into the bowl and mix together to form the finished sauce. Set aside until you’re ready to build the sandwich.

  • To build the katsu sandwich
    1. Start by putting the vegetable oil into your skillet on medium heat. The oil should fill the bottom of the pan for a shallow fry. Once the oil looks hot and glossy, add the breaded chicken.

    2. Fry the chicken till golden brown on both sides. Once cooked, pull the chicken out of the oil using your tongs, place onto paper towels and add a little pinch of salt to season.

    3. Next, place your bread into a toaster and toast to desired brownness. Take the toast from the toaster and slather the marmalade on one side of the bread. Then, place the chicken on one piece of bread, add shredded lettuce and squeeze the lemon on the lettuce. Lastly, place the other piece of bread to create the sandwich. Cut in half and enjoy!


Join America's Fastest Growing Spirits Newsletter THE SPILL. Unlock all the reviews, recipes and revelry — and get 15% off award-winning La Tierra de Acre Mezcal.