The most expensive sandwich in the country appears deceptively simple: panko-fried beef between two sauce-painted pieces of toasted white bread. That’s it. So, why does it cost $180 (and taste incredible)? Our senior video producer, Guillermo Riveros, visited Don Wagyu in NYC to find out, and learned how to make the Wagyu katsu sando from chef Corwin Kave.
The original katsu sando is a Japanese convenience store staple, usually made with a panko-breaded pork cutlet.
Some Japanese chefs began making luxe versions of the ubiquitous katsu sando with premium Kobe beef—just as Daniel Boulud once turned the classic American burger into a then-outrageous $27 creation of foie gras-stuffed short rib. The pricey Kobe katsu trend came to America in 2018, had an avocado toast moment as a true Instagram sensation, and the sandwich is still holding strong on several menus around the country. They’re an intriguing blend of humble and high-brow, and they flat-out taste fantastic, with great textural contrasts too.
But $180? Most highfalutin’ Kobe katsu sandwiches might cost you around $90—and Don Wagyu’s most expensive option is twice that. There are several reasons why, but mostly, it’s the meat.
All About That Beef
Quick crash course: “Wagyu beef” refers to any beef from Japanese cattle; only a small amount is exported to other countries each year, so it’s already a rare commodity. Kobe beef is Japanese beef (or Wagyu beef) that has been raised in accordance with strict guidelines that not only sound like they give the animals better lives—they’re famously fed beer and receive massages, which may or may not actually happen—but result in meat that is intricately marbled, supremely tender, and full of buttery, beefy flavor. This is generally true of all Wagyu beef, but Kobe is an even greater expression of its best traits, the most striking to the diner being the extreme marbling that makes the meat so tender and rich.
Don Wagyu uses Ozaki beef, which is even rarer; it comes from a single farm in Japan, run by Mr. Muneharu Ozaki in Miyazaki prefecture, a famous beef-producing region. Olives and sake lees are added to his cattle’s diet, and they enjoy a longer life relative even to other Wagyu animals. Their meat is so finely marbled with intramuscular fat, a slice recalls frost on a windowpane (if the windowpane was bright red); meat and fat seem suspended in perfect balance, one inextricable from the other. That fat happens to be mostly unsaturated, too—aka the good kind, or healthy fat—so don’t assume this is heart-stopping in any sense except quality and price. (Okay, so the deep-frying step may disqualify it as health food, but it’s still a worthy indulgence.)
If you want to make the couture katsu sando at home and are willing to splurge, you’ll want to look for Wagyu that is labeled A3-A5 grade, or Wagyu-style beef that’s Grade A Prime with a BMS of 9+. You can buy imported Wagyu beef at Costco if you’re up for dropping a thousand bucks on a huge hunk of meat—or get it in more reasonable quantities from a handful of farms raising American Wagyu in the U.S. As for specific cut, ribeye or strip loin is recommended. Go with the latter and you can follow the restaurant’s lead: render the fat cap for making fries (or frying anything else you fancy).
American Wagyu Gold Grade Ribeye Filet, $54 at Snake River Farms
Still an expensive steak sandwich, but in far more affordable territory.
Have reservations about breading and frying such an expensive, beautiful piece of beef? In the words of chef Kave, “Just wait until you taste it.”
But you can always follow the same basic recipe with another protein of your choosing, from simple chicken to traditional pork. Before we get there, though, a few other components of the katsu sando deserve special note.
Seeking Out Shokupan
The bread is also of utmost importance—you don’t want to slap your precious Wagyu (or anything, really) between two squishy slices of supermarket white bread. The ideal specimen is shokupan, also called Japanese milk bread, which is like the most glorious, fluffy form of Wonder Bread you could possibly imagine.
If you can’t find a local source for shokupan, you can make your own (try this Shokupan recipe), or seek out a Pullman-style loaf or pan de mie from a bakery; Don Wagyu uses pan de mie from Balthazar Bakery. If you do make your own, be sure to get bread flour for a properly spectacular rise.
USA Pan Bakeware Pullman Loaf Pan, $22.99 on Amazon
If you bake your own, you'll also need the right pan.
When it’s time to make your sando, you’ll trim the crusts off the bread (yes, this $180 sandwich is toddler-approved), toast each slice on one side, and spread it with a special sauce before adding your katsu.
Convenience store katsu sandos usually come slicked with tonkatsu sauce, a thick, tangy-sweet, brown dipping sauce or condiment that contains ketchup, oyster sauce, and sugar, but at Don Wagyu, they make a version of tare, a soy-based sauce and marinade that traditionally accompanies grilled foods in Japan. They start with a base of caramelized onions, add garlic, ginger, sake, mirin, black vinegar, and tamari (gluten-free soy sauce), and blend it until smooth. Their recipe is included below, but you can also buy ready-made tare sauce for your sandwich if you prefer.
Ebara Yakitori Tare Sauce, $3.75 at Mercato
Try it with grilled chicken too.
A Few More Recipe Notes
- If you need to even out your steak with a meat mallet, think “heavily brushing” it rather than even lightly pounding it; just be gentle. If you’re working with pork or chicken, you can get a little more aggressive if need be.
- When it comes to breading, don’t season your flour, be sure to thin out your egg wash with a little water so less sticks to the meat (no gummy pockets of cooked egg!), and don’t press your panko into the beef; just sprinkle, dip, and let what sticks, stick.
- If you can’t find fresh panko—check the freezer section of a Japanese grocery store—you can use regular panko, but don’t substitute regular breadcurmbs. Panko is much lighter, more delicate, and super-crisp. Read more about panko vs breadcrumbs.
- If you don’t have a deep fat fryer, you can set up a pot on the stove with at least 3 inches of canola oil, vegetable oil, or rice bran oil. Use a candy thermometer or infrared laser thermometer to monitor the heat.
- Or, if you don’t want to deep fry at all, try grilling your Wagyu steak (sans breadcrumbs, egg wash, and flour, of course). Not quite the same, but still a delicious steak sandwich.
- At Don Wagyu, they trim the edges of the finished sandwich so each slice stands up on its own, but feel free to skip that step if you just want to eat already.
Don Wagyu Katsu Sando Recipe
- 5-ounce portion Wagyu beef (ribeye or strip loin)
- 2 slices white Pullman bread, crusts cut off
- ½ cup tare sauce (see recipe below)
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 large eggs
- 1-2 tablespoons water
- 1 cup fresh panko breadcrumbs (see recipe notes above)
- kosher salt or sea salt
1. Trim your ribeye or strip loin steak into a 5-inch x 5-inch square that is ¾ inches thick. This is the ideal size. You can use a meat mallet if you need to adjust the thickness of your steak, but don’t pound it too hard. Set aside.
2. Whisk together your eggs and a couple tablespoons of water and place in a mixing bowl or similar deep vessel with high sides. Put your flour in a separate bowl and your panko in another; line them up like this on your counter or table: flour, egg wash, panko. This is your breading station.
3. Season your steak with a little kosher salt and then follow the standard breading procedure (dip the steak first in the flour, then in the egg, and finally in the breadcrumbs). Make sure to shake off the excess flour before moving into the egg and be sure that the egg totally coats the steak before moving into the breadcrumbs. Once your steak is breaded you can proceed directly to the frying or you can place it on a cooling rack and sheet tray until you are ready to fry.
4. Preheat your oil to 375°F and fry the steak for 2 minutes and 20 seconds. Remove the steak from the oil and test the steak using a digital thermometer. Ideally the internal temperature is 95-100°F (just above body temperature). If your steak temperature is in this temperature range, set it aside on a cooling rack and sheet tray to rest. Season each side with some kosher salt or sea salt. Rest the steak for 6 minutes on the rack in a warm place before serving.
5. Using the broiler function on your toaster oven or standard oven (or your stovetop griddle if you have one), toast your bread on one side until it is golden brown. Brush the tare sauce on the untoasted side of the bread. Place your rested katsu steak on the sauced bread and close the sando. Using a serrated knife, cut the sando into four squares. Serve immediately.
Make this before you start anything else; the recipe yields a quart, and this is delicious on lots of other things, from grilled chicken to roasted vegetables.
- 1 pound Spanish onions, peeled and thinly sliced
- 1 ½ ounces fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
- 2 ounces garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
- 12 ounces sake
- 12 ounces tamari (like San-J brand)
- 6 ounces mirin
- 3 ounces black vinegar (like Koon Chun)
- 1/8 teaspoon xanthan gum
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
1. Preheat a stainless-steel pot over medium high heat and add the olive oil. Add your onions and cook until deeply caramelized while stirring frequently. Add the garlic and ginger and cook for 2 minutes. Add the sake and bring to a boil. Boil the sake until all aroma of raw alcohol has dissipated, approximately 5 minutes. Add the tamari, mirin, and black vinegar and bring to a boil for 5 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and allow to cool.
2. Transfer the tare sauce to a blender, add the xanthan gum and blend on high until smooth. Alternatively, you could use an immersion blender to puree the tare sauce.
Serving Your Sando
If you want the full Don Wagyu experience, serve your sando with nori-dusted, Wagyu fat fries and a yuzukushō-infused dill pickle. Or let it stand alone and revel in the beefy, umami excess. Putting it on Instagram first: optional.