Introduced to Japan during the Meiji era by the British, Japanese curry is considered to be one of the national dishes of Japan. Adored by young and old alike, it is popularly cooked using Japanese ‘curry roux’, a solid block of compressed curry spices which holds the myriad of unique flavours.
In celebration of the Japanese Film Festival’s upcoming screening of Midnight Diner, we had the pleasure of learning how to make this delicious dish from Chef Hideo Dekura at his cooking school in conjunction with Washoku Lovers Kitchen. The movie, showing in Sydney on November 6th, is about a Japanese diner that opens only from midnight until dawn and serves comfort food such as curry rice and ramen.
Making your own curry from scratch isn’t as difficult as one may think, and the main difference between Japanese curry and that of its Asian neighbours is most notably the addition of apple, which lends a distinctive sweet flavour. Japanese curry has a thicker, sauce-like consistency and deep brown colour than Thai or Indian curry.
Chef Dekura is a prominent Japanese chef based in Sydney who has been dedicated to the promotion of Japanese food and cooking since settling here in 1974. Owner of Culinary Studio Dekura in Chatswood and author of several Japanese cooking books, he has a calm, amiable presence and guides us skilfully as we prepare our Japanese curry.
Many of the utensils we cook with can be found at Daiso, that gem of a Japanese dollar store where everything costs $2.80. These include ergonomic curry rice spoons, designed especially so that every grain of rice can be scooped up, peelers with containers for vegetable peelings, rice bowls and cute bento boxes to transport your curry rice in for lunch the next day. Did you know that they also sell handy rice strainers? These innovative contraptions clip onto the side of the rice bowl so that you can drain the water off the rice without losing any to the sink! How handy!
The beautiful thing about curries is that one can use any combination of spices they wish, and this recipe is no exception.
We learn that this savoury curry is typically garnished with pickles such as fukujinzuke and rakkyo. Rakkyo are crunchy, pickled young spring onion bulbs and Fukijinzuke is a darker mix of chopped pickled vegetables such as daikon, eggplant, lotus root, beans, uri and perilla. Both are said to accentuate the flavours of curry, and add a delicious burst of umami and textural contrast to the soft, rich sauce. In addition, the allyl sulphide found in rakkyo is said to help one digest the strong spices of Japanese curry, as well as increase stamina and prevent fatigue. What amazing properties pickles have!
As well as the curry, we are also taught how to make a simple Japanese dressing of mirin, soy sauce, rice vinegar and sesame oil, which is tossed with butter lettuce and wakame for a simple yet delicious salad.
Essential Japanese curry ingredients like chunou sauce (a Japanese kind of barbeque sauce), Japanese curry powder and curry roux (if you choose not to make it from scratch) can be found at Japanese supermarkets such as Tokyo Mart in Northbridge, where one can become immersed in a kind of Japanese gastronomic heaven. We also cook Koshihikari rice, a popular variety of short-grain rice cultivated in Japan which has a sticky texture and nutty flavour.
After a labour of love and a long period of simmering, the resulting dish is a thick, unctuous, caramel-brown curry marbled with pops of bright green and orange and scooped generously onto a bed of fluffy Japanese rice. The surprise addition of mango along with the apple gives it an extra dimension of rich flavour. If you’re apprehensive about Japanese curry, one spoonful of this homemade version will definitely change your mind!
If cooking your own seems too tedious a task, many of Washoku Lovers’ partnered restaurants such as Mappen, Derauma and Oiden serve their own Japanese curry, and an Instagram competition is currently being run to celebrate Curry Month this October. Keeping in mind that each version of curry differs slightly, trying them all doesn’t seem like such a bad idea, and is one of the great things about this delicious Japanese comfort food!
Recipe for Japanese Curry Rice （カレーライス）
Preparation time: 10 minutes; cooking time: 80 minutes
- 3 cups rice
- 550g chicken thighs, boneless and skinless
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 tablespoon oil
- 14g grated garlic (approximately 2 large cloves)
- 14g grated ginger (approximately ¼ inch piece)
- 500g thinly sliced onions (2 large onions)
- 2 ½ tablespoons curry powder (Japanese brand such as S&B)
- 3 cups chicken stock
- 300g carrots cut into chunks (2 carrots)
- 1 small apple, peeled and grated
- 1 small mango, peeled and grated
- 2 tablespoons chunou sauce
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tablespoon turmeric
- ¼ teaspoon each of cinnamon, nutmeg and ground cumin
- 350g potatoes cut into large chunks (2 medium potatoes)
- ½ cup green peas
For the roux
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 tablespoon flour
To serve: Fukujinzuke and Rakkyo (Japanese pickles)
- Wash rice thoroughly and cook according to packet instructions.
- Trim any fat from the chicken and cut into large chunks. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of salt and ¼ teaspoon of pepper and mix to distribute evenly.
- Heat the vegetable oil in a heavy bottomed pan over medium-high heat until hot then place the chicken in the pan in a single layer. Let the chicken brown undisturbed (about 5 minutes). Flip and let brown on the other side.
- Turn down the heat to medium-low and transfer the chicken to a bowl using tongs, making sure to leave as much oil in the pan as possible.
- Add grated ginger and garlic and fry in the oil until it’s not sizzling as much and reached a rich caramel brown colour.
- Add onions and stir to coat in oil. Cover with a lid and let onions steam until translucent and soft (about 10-15 minutes).
- Remove lid, turn heat up to medium and continue frying onions, stirring constantly until reduced to about 1/8 of original volume and forms a shiny caramel paste (about 20 minutes). If onion starts to stick before fully caramelised, scrub off with a spatula or add a bit of water then scrape using spatula.
- Once full caramelised, add curry powder and sauté briefly until fragrant. Return chicken to pan and add stock, carrots, potato, grated apple, chunou sauce, tomato paste, salt and bay leaf. Bring to boil over high heat then reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes or until carrots and potatoes are very tender. Alternatively, steam carrots and potatoes until tender separately before cooking curry then add at this stage.
- In the meantime, make the roux by melting butter in a small saucepan. Add flour and use a spatula to stir constantly until the bubbling subsides and the roux is a light brown colour.
- Once potatoes are tender, taste and season with salt and pepper. Add the cinnamon, nutmeg and ground cumin, and more curry powder if you wish.
- Add the roux to thicken the sauce, then green peas.
- Serve with hot rice.
Fukujinzuke, Rakkyo, Chunou sauce and Japanese curry powder can be found at Japanese supermarkets and some Asian grocers.
Click here for more details: http://www.washokulovers.com/events/washoku-lovers-kitchen-japanese-curry/
Contributed by Maddie Kwong