Try making this delicious Japanese curry from scratch
When talking with Canadian friends about my experience with Japanese cuisine, I make it my mission to inform them that there is far more to Japanese cooking than just sushi. For this reason, I jumped at the opportunity to write about Japanese curry for Bento Box. Not only is it one of my favourite Japanese dishes, but it’s a simple, one-pot meal that more North Americans should take the chance to enjoy—particularly now, in the depths of a frigid Canadian winter!
Though curry may not be as commonly associated with Japan as culinary archetypes like sushi or ramen, it is as ubiquitous in Japan as both of those dishes. Curry was introduced to Japan from India by way of the British during the Meiji era. However, it was not truly embraced on a national scale until the 1960s.
Today the dish is so popular that it is commonly referred to as one of Japan’s national foods. In fact, if we were to create a list of staple Japanese comfort foods, curry (or karē, as it is more commonly called) would be up there near the top, alongside karaage (Japanese fried chicken) and ramen. The thick, aromatic karē sauce is the perfect stick-to-your-ribs meal to curl up with on a cold night.
This warm and hearty dish is beloved across the country
The first thing to know about karē is that it bears little resemblance to the South Asian staple that spawned it. Sure, some of the original spices have remained, but the Japanese have put their own spin on it. It’s generally milder than its counterparts, and the sauce (referred to as roux) is often much thicker.
A quick way of understanding karē’s broad appeal is to compare it to a Canadian culinary staple: Kraft Dinner. The simplest form of karē served on rice is known as karē raisu, and it is as popular with Japanese children as KD is with Canadian kids. Karē is also sold with the sauce or roux pre-mixed in powdered or cube form, alongside simple preparation instructions that have made it a fixture in the culinary repertoire of Japanese college students. However, whereas KD requires only the addition of milk, packaged karē mixes provide only the sauce for the curry, opening the dish up to culinary experimentation.
The widely accepted, standard recipe suggests adding onions, carrots, potatoes and meat, then serving the thick, stew-like curry on white rice. However, the true pleasure of karē comes in the variations different chefs introduce. Some include a sweet kick by adding puréed apple just before serving. A veggie-loving friend of mine swears by replacing the meat in the recipe with chickpeas. When we made our own veggie curry recently, we added some ginger, swapped out the potatoes for sweet potatoes, included some mushrooms and finished it off with daikon (Japanese radish).
Endless variations on classic curry
My all-time favourite variation is katsu karē. It takes the standard recipe and vegetables, but tops it with a deep-fried pork cutlet that is pretty close to schnitzel in size and texture. Garnish the dish with a generous helping of red fukujinzuke pickles and you’ve got the perfect Japanese comfort food.
And the karē avour has spread even further—to dishes like karē udon, wherein thick udon noodles are served in a thinner curry broth. In icy Hokkaido, sūpu karē (soup curry), which also uses a thinner broth, introduces more vegetables and cranks up the spice to an eye-watering level. Finally, there’s karē pan (curry bun), where an almost donut-like pastry is lled with curry and deep-fried until crispy.
No matter how it’s prepared, one thing is certain about karē: it has taken Japan by storm. If you haven’t yet had the chance to try it, we’ve included a selection of recipes with this article.
Since karē is easily one of the simplest Japanese foods to cook at home, I hope you give them a try!
Indulge yourself with this classic take on the popular dish
Makes 12 servings
S&B Golden Curry Sauce Mix – 8.4-oz packet
Meat (beef, chicken, lamb or pork) of your choice, 1” cubed – 2 1/4 lb
Onions, chopped – 4
Carrots, medium size, chopped – 2
Potatoes, medium size, chopped -3
Cooking oil – 4 tbsp
Water – 6 cups
Steamed rice -12 servings
- Heat oil in a large frying pan and stir-fry meat and onions until onions are lightly browned (approx. 3 minutes).
- Add carrots, potatoes and/or other vegetables, if desired.
- Put the cooked meat and vegetables into a large pot. Add water and bring to a boil.
- Reduce heat, cover and simmer until meat is tender (approx. 10 minutes).
- Break S&B Golden Curry Sauce Mix into pieces and add them to the pot.
- Stir until Sauce Mix is completely melted. Simmer for 5 minutes, stirring constantly.
- Serve hot over rice.
Makes six servings
S&B Golden Curry Sauce Mix -120 g
Onion, large size, finely chopped -1
Beef, thinly sliced -250 g
Chestnut mushrooms, finely sliced -8 tbsp
Vegetable oil -1 tbsp
Soup stock -1300 ml
Soy sauce – 2 tbsp
Soft boiled udon noodles -6 packs
Spring onion stems, finely sliced -2
Red chili pepper, sliced -1
- Heat the oil in a medium saucepan, add the onion and fry gently on low heat until lightly browned.
- Add thinly sliced beef and mushrooms and fry for 3 minutes until browned.
- Add 1300 ml of soup stock and bring to a boil. Reduce to medium heat and simmer for 15 minutes until the beef is tender. Skim away any surface scum.
- Remove from the heat and cool for 3 minutes, then add the curry roux in pieces.
- Bring back to a boil, add the soy sauce, reduce heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes. Stir constantly to avoid burning the sauce.
- Serve the udon with the curry in a bowl, garnished with spring onions. Top with chili if you like it hot.
Curry-flavoured tuna and mayonnaise roll
Makes two medium-sized rolls
S&B Curry Powder -1/4 tsp
Steamed rice -2 cups
Rice vinegar -3 tbsp
Canned tuna, drained -1/4 cup
Finely chopped onion – 2 tbsp
Mayonnaise -1 tbsp
Roasted nori (seaweed) -2 sheets
Lettuce -A few leaves
- Mix vinegar into steamed rice to make sushi rice.
- Add the tuna, onion, mayo, curry powder and salt, then mix well.
- Place lettuce, sushi rice and half of the tuna mixture on a sheet of nori and make a roll.
- Repeat with more nori, lettuce, sushi rice and the rest of the mixture.