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How to Make Hearty Japanese Curry from Scratch

How to Make Hearty Japanese Curry from Scratch

Today I’m going to show you how to make a hearty Japanese Curry without using those instant roux blocks, so stick around! Welcome back to No Recipes. I’m Marc Matsumoto, and I’m here to show you how to elevate your everyday meals, so hit that subscribe button and ring that bell so you don’t miss out!

If you’ve never heard of it before, Japanese Curry may sound like a bit of an odd idea, but it was brought to Japan over a hundred and fifty years ago by the British, and since then it’s gone on to become one of the most popular home-cooked meals here in Japan. Unlike Thai or Indian curries, Japanese curry is sweeter and thicker, which makes it the perfect accompaniment for rice during the colder months of the year. These days most households use these instant roux blocks to make it, but it’s loaded with questionable additives and I actually don’t think it makes the process that much easier, so I like making mine from scratch.

If you’ve been watching this channel for long, you may remember that I first posted my Japanese Curry Rice about 10 years ago, but since then I’ve made a bunch of improvements to the process and to the ingredients. So here’s how to make the best Japanese Curry from Scratch.

Ingredients

The first thing you’re gonna need is about 750 grams of your favorite protein. I’m using skin-on chicken thighs, along with 1 tablespoon of oil to brown it. For the aromatics, I’ve got 30 grams of ginger, 20 grams of garlic, 600 grams of onions, 1/4 cup of water, and 1/8 tsp baking soda, 1 teaspoon salt, 70 grams of carrots, a ripe banana, and 24 grams of Japanese curry powder.

For the curry we need 4 cups of stock. I’m using vegetable stock. I’m also gonna use 300 grams of carrots, 400 grams of potatoes, 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 1 tablespoon chouno sauce, a bay leaf, star anise, and 1 tablespoon of tomato paste.

Preparation

The first thing we’re gonna do is mix a solution of 1/4 cup water with the salt and baking soda, and then stir that together until it’s dissolved. I’ll explain more later, but this is gonna speed up the caramelization of the onions. The key to a flavorful Japanese Curry, whether you’re using a roux or not, is to caramelize the aromatics. This can take over an hour to do properly, but I’ve found a few tricks to speed things up and chopping the onions finely is the first one. This works by creating more surface area that can come into contact with the pan, which speeds things up. I have a whole video on how to chop onions, so check the description for a link if you need help with that.

Aromatics

Next, I’m gonna grate the ginger. This is a Japanese-style grater meant for daikon, but I love it because the gaps prevent the teeth from getting clogged up. If you don’t have one, you can use the rasp on a box grater, or just mince it up finely. Now I’m gonna grate the garlic as well. Then you want to empty the hopper and grate about 70 grams of carrots. Grated carrots are a flavorful way of adding sweetness to any sauce, and curry is no exception.

Chicken

For the chicken, I’m gonna trim off any excess skin or fat, and then cut it into large, bite-sized pieces. I know someone is gonna ask, so I’ll address it now. I don’t recommend using chicken breasts or any lean cut of meat for curry. Fat and connective tissue are what keep the meat moist and make it fall-apart tender during the long cooking time, and without it the meat will shrivel up into a mealy dry chunk of protein. That’s why you should save those chicken breasts and pork loins for dishes that require shorter cooking times.

Browning the Chicken

Okay, let’s get the chicken into the pot so we can start browning. I’ve got a large Dutch oven preheating over medium high heat that I’m adding the oil to, and then I’m gonna arrange the chicken in it skin side down. If the chicken doesn’t all fit, get as many in as you can and then save the rest for adding to the curry later. Now I’m gonna let the chicken brown undisturbed for about three minutes.

Okay, the skin side is looking nice and brown so I’m gonna go ahead and flip it over and brown the other side. Don’t worry if it’s not looking perfect. The important thing is that you’re forming lots of little brown bits on the bottom of the pan, because this is where the flavor of our curry is born. I like using Dutch ovens for stews and curries because they’re made from a dense material that conducts heat more evenly, so you don’t end up with hot spots where your curry might burn.

Caramelizing the Aromatics

Okay, this should be good. Let’s go ahead and get the chicken out of the pot, leaving as much of the oil behind as possible. Now I’m gonna add the ginger and garlic and fry this until it’s extremely fragrant and very brown. You’ll probably end up with a growing patch of brown fond on the bottom of your pan, but don’t panic. You want to get that layer as brown as possible without burning it, so just remind yourself that fond is flavor.

Once it’s looking like this I’m gonna go ahead and add the onions. Then you want to add the baking soda solution and give it a quick stir. You want to cover it with the lid before the water has a chance to evaporate, so do this quickly. Now, just turn down the heat to low and set the timer for 10 minutes.

Cutting the Vegetables

While we’re waiting for the onions to steam, let’s cut the veggies up. In Japan, we use a cut called rangiri for cutting root vegetables for curry. Despite being asymmetric, the pieces are roughly the same size and thickness, which ensures they cook through evenly. You want to start by making a diagonal cut, and then roll the carrot a quarter turn, and then make a cut at the same angle again. Then you just continue to roll and cut, roll and cut, until you end up with a pile of chunky carrots like this. Same deal for the potatoes, only I’m gonna cut them slightly bigger because they take less time to cook than the carrots. If your potatoes are really big, you may want to halve or quarter them lengthwise first. Once you get used to cutting things rangiri it becomes a no-brainer, and I love how perfectly imperfect the pieces are.

Caramelizing the Onions

Okay, let’s check the onions. While we were chopping, a few important things have happened here, so let me explain. First, the water has released all that brown fond from the pot, effectively resetting the clock, so we can caramelize the onions without burning anything. The next thing is that water conducts heat better than air, so by steaming the onions we were able to cook them in about half the time it would have taken to get them this soft by sautéing, since browning reactions required temperatures above the boiling point of water, the faster we’re able to cook the onions, the faster we can start browning them. The last thing is something that you can’t see. Remember how we added that baking soda solution along with the onions? Well, baking soda does two things to the onions: the first is that it breaks down their cellular structure allowing them to cook faster. The second is that it’s raised the pH of the mixture, which significantly speeds up browning reactions.

Building the Curry Base

Now all we have to do is turn up the heat and boil off that excess water. Once most of the water is gone, I’m going to go ahead and add the grated carrots, and then we’re gonna fry this mixture until it’s a beautiful cinnamon brown. Although I’m referring to them collectively as browning there are actually two different reactions taking place here. The first is the Maillard Reaction, where sugars and proteins react to produce a bunch of new flavor compounds, including umami-producing amino acids. The second reaction is caramelization in which large sugar molecules get broken down into smaller ones, which is why caramelized onions taste so sweet. This is the most important part of making a good Japanese Curry, so take your time to get this mixture as brown as possible without burning it. I’ve obviously sped this footage up, but it took me about 15 minutes from the time I open the lid until they started looking like this. Just look at how glossy and beautiful these onions are! I know you can’t smell them, but if you could, I guarantee you’d be drooling right now.

Adding the Curry Powder

Next I’m gonna add the curry powder and give it a few quick stirs to toast it and bring out the aromas. Be careful not to overdo this though because curry powder tends to burn easily, and it’ll make it taste bitter. Okay, this is looking perfect, so let’s get the vegetable stock in there. Now I’m going to use a hand blender to puree this mixture. This makes for a smooth curry and the thickness comes from the caramelized vegetables instead of a fat and flour roux.

Final Ingredients

Oops, I almost forgot to add the banana. Most Japanese curries use things like honey and sugar to add the sweetness, but I like using a ripe banana. Along with the caramelized aromatics, the banana adds a wonderful mellow sweetness without adding any acidity like apples or fruit juice would. It’s also another ingredient that increases the viscosity of our curry without adding any thickeners. Finally, I’m gonna add the soy sauce, tomato paste, and chunou sauce, along with the bay leaf and star anise. Okay, let’s go ahead and return the chicken to the pot. I’m also gonna add in those rangiri cut carrots and potatoes. Now we just need to let this simmer uncovered over low heat for about an hour, or until everything is nice and tender. Because the sauce is quite thick already it has a tendency to burn to the pot, so be sure to give it a stir every 10 minutes or so.

Secret Ingredient

Also, do you remember that secret ingredient I was telling you about earlier? It’s Dutch processed cocoa powder. It may sound like a strange ingredient, but this is what’s called kakushi aji in Japanese which means hidden flavor. It’s an ingredient that’s added in a small enough quantity to not be obvious, but it enhances the dish. In this case, the cocoa powder adds an earthy depth to the curry that balances out the sweetness of the fruits and vegetables, as well as the pungent kick of the spices.

Finishing Up

After about an hour, your curry should end up looking something like this. Give it a taste and adjust the seasonings with salt and cayenne pepper if you want it a bit spicier. Also, if you want a more saucy curry, you can add a bit of water to thin it out, but personally, I like my Japanese curry nice and thick. Just look at how luscious that curry is, and we did it without the help of a boxed mix. My old Japanese Curry recipe was almost as good as the boxed roux blocks, but after 10 years of tweaking I can finally say that this is better than the boxed roux in almost every way. It tastes better, it’s better for you, and it only requires a marginal increase in effort. As with most stews, Japanese Curry tastes better the second day, so be sure to make enough of it so you have some leftovers.

For most Japanese people, Kare Raisu is the ultimate comfort food that reminds us of Mom’s home cooking, so I hope you give it a try! If you enjoyed watching this video, I’d really appreciate your support by giving this a thumbs up and leaving a comment down below. If you have friends that love Japanese Curry send them a link to this video so they could give it a shot. As much as I love making these videos for you guys, I’ve got bills to pay, so I’d really appreciate if you’d consider becoming a patron on Patreon to support the making of these videos. Well, I hope you have a safe, warm Winter, and I’ll catch you in the next one! Check us out on Instagram @norecipe