Japanese Curry from Scratch

Japanese curry loaded with tender hunks of chicken, carrots and potatoes in a rich savory curry sauce.

In a country where you can get everything from hamburgers to lady’s undergarments out of a vending machine, it’s no surprise that home cooks have many convenient options when “cooking” a meal. For some dishes like Japanese curry (カレーライス – karei raisu), pre-made mixes have become the norm rather than the exception and a trip to the supermarket will reveal an entire section of boxed curry mixes.

These instant curry mixes usually take the form of bricks that look a bit like bulbous chocolate bars and are loaded with saturated fat, MSG and preservatives. But as much as I want to hate this junk food, it’s a comfort food I grew up on and could easily be called the national dish of Japanese home cooking. That’s why I’ve been working on my recipe for Japanese curry from scratch for the past 7 years. It may take a little more effort than using the packaged variety, but it doesn’t require any extra time, and involves only a handful of additional ingredients.

Carrots for Karei Raisu Recipe

So what exactly is Japanese curry?

Like many foods in Japan, curry worked its way into the Japanese culinary repertoire from abroad. The prevailing theory is that the British introduced it as a cheap way of feeding troops en masse and that these soldiers brought their newly acquired taste for this un-Japanese blend of pungent spices home with them.

Today, curry has become a staple of the Japanese home, that’s enjoyed by people of all ages. It’s thicker and sweeter than most other curries of the world and has a depth of flavor that’s unique, thanks to an ample dose of caramelized onions. With big hunks of tender meat, carrots, and potatoes, it’s more like a hearty stew than a typical curry.

Japanese Curry Recipe (Karei Raisu)

Ask any chef at one of the many famed curry houses in Japan, and they’ll tell you that the key to a really great Japanese curry is in the caramelized onions. The onions not only add a ton of umami and flavor to the curry, they also provide the characteristic sweetness without using sugar. For a more detailed explanation on caramelized onions, check out my post on caramelizing onions.

Also, after years of experimenting with different curry powders and garam masalas, I’ve come to the conclusion that the most consistent way to get the right blend of spices is to use a Japanese curry power such as S&B brand. You can usually find it at Asian supermarkets but Amazon also carries it (see the widget below).

Equipment you'll need:

Japanese Curry Recipe (Karei Raisu)
Japanese Curry from Scratch
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Japanese curry loaded with tender hunks of chicken, carrots and potatoes in a rich savory curry sauce.
Japanese Curry Recipe (Karei Raisu)
Japanese Curry from Scratch
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Votes: 0
Rating: 0
You:
Rate this recipe!
Japanese curry loaded with tender hunks of chicken, carrots and potatoes in a rich savory curry sauce.
Servings Prep Time
servings 10minutes
Cook Time
80minutes
Servings Prep Time
servings 10minutes
Cook Time
80minutes
Ingredients
  • for curry
  • 550 grams chicken thighs - boneless skinless
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 14 grams garlic grated (~2 large cloves)
  • 14 grams ginger grated (~1/2-inch piece)
  • 500 grams onion sliced thin (2 large onions)
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons curry powder Japanese brand such as S&B
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • 300 grams carrots cut into chunks (~ 2 carrots)
  • 1 small apple peeled cored and grated
  • 2 tablespoons chunou sauce
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 350 grams potatoes cut into large chunks (~2 medium potatoes)
  • 1/2 cup green peas
  • for roux
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon flour
Units:
Instructions
  1. Clean any large bits of fat or tendon from the chicken and cut into large chunks. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper and mix to distribute evenly. Chicken for Japanese Curry
  2. Heat the vegetable oil in a heavy bottomed pot over medium-high heat until hot and shimmering and then add the chicken in a single layer. Let the chicken brown undisturbed (about 5 minutes). Flip the chicken and let it brown on the other side. Browning Chicken for Curry
  3. 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.
  4. Add the grated garlic and ginger and fry in the oil until it's not sizzling as much and it reaches a rich caramel brown color.Caramelized Ginger and Garlic for Japanese Curry
  5. Add the onions, and stir to coat with oil. Cover with a lid and let the onions steam until translucent and limp (about 10-15 minutes). Caramelizing onions for Japanese Curry
  6. Remove the lid, turn up the heat to medium and continue frying the onion, stirring constantly until it's reduced to about 1/8 of its original volume and it forms a shiny caramel brown paste (about 20-30 minutes). If the onion starts to stick to the pan before it's fully caramelized, try scrubbing off the stuck bits with a spatula. If that doesn't work you can add just a bit of water to the areas where things are sticking and then use the spatula to scrape. Caramelized Onions for Japanese Curry Recipe
  7. When the onions are fully caramelized, add the curry powder and saute briefly until very fragrant. Japanese Curry Base
  8. Return the chicken to the pot and then add the stock, carrots, grated apple, chunou sauce, tomato paste, coco powder, salt and the bay leaf. Bring to a boil over high heat and then reduce the heat. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes.
  9. Add the potatoes, cover and simmer until the carrots and potatoes are very tender (another 15-20 minutes). Japanese Curry Recipe
  10. In the meantime, make the roux by adding the butter and flour to a small saucepan over medium heat. Use a spatula to stir constantly until the bubbling subsides and the roux is a light brown color. Roux for Japanese Curry
  11. When the potatoes are tender, taste and adjust salt to taste. If you like your curry sweeter, you can add some honey.
  12. Finish the curry by stirring in the roux and green peas and bringing to a boil to thicken the sauce.
  13. Serve with hot rice, or on top of a bowl of udon.

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  • Y-y

    Hi Marc
    I absolutely love your recipes – every one I try is just *spot on* in flavor and authenticity, thank you for this amazing blog!

    I’d like to find an alternative to the bulldog (chuono) sauce – would be great to find a breakdown of alternative ingredients if possible.
    Thank you!

    • http://norecipes.com Marc Matsumoto

      Hi Y-y, thanks for your nice note! Chunou sauce is basically worcestershire sauce with a bunch of fruit in it, which makes it sweeter and more viscous. You could make something similar by mixing worcestershire sauce and ketchup.

  • mon

    Love this site. I hope you’ll come out with a cookbook!

    • http://norecipes.com Marc Matsumoto

      Thanks, mon! No plans to release a cookbook (at least not on paper), but you guys will be the first to hear of it if I ever do:-)

  • not_configured

    I’m sure this recipe will become a family favorite. Which chunou sauce would you recommend, Bulldog or Kagome? Or another brand? Thx!

    • http://norecipes.com Marc Matsumoto

      Hi not_configured, to be honest, I’ve never really done a taste test so I can’t say which is better, but I suspect you won’t notice a difference in this recipe as the dominant flavor is that of the curry powder. The Chunou sauce is for sweetness and the blend of spices.

  • Ashley

    Yum! Love and miss the ease of getting Japanese curry (when I lived in Japan…); I’ve only made it a few times since coming back to the U.S. and haven’t quite got it where I want it yet, so I’ll try this and see if it makes a difference! Thank you!

    One type of Japanese curry I’ve been trying so hard to replicate is the Yokosuka Navy/Naval curry (よこすか海軍カレー). It’s just a bit different (as are many curries, I know) and seems to include various other ingredients, but I haven’t been able to nail down the flavor yet. Have you tried it, and if so, how easy do you think it would be to replicate?

    • http://norecipes.com Marc Matsumoto

      Hi Ashley, thanks for the note! Nope I haven’t heard of Yokosuka Navy Curry, but I’ll try and see if I can find it the next time I’m at the store. As you might imagine, with all the curry places, shops have to do something unique to get noticed. This often includes unusual techniques or ingredients. I’ve seen everything from bananas to coffee being added for kakushiaji (hidden taste), and my own weird ingredient is cocoa powder.

      • Ashley

        Made it a few days ago! Delicious! I think one thing we weren’t doing was caramelizing the onions as much as you recommend above, and we also had a super rich homemade beef stock we used. I experimented this time and tried to replicate Japanese curry powder and think it turned out. Also improvised with apple cider vinegar (only a touch) because I can’t eat tomatoes and with worcestershire sauce in place of chuuno sauce. So good; thanks again for sharing!

  • Melissa

    Hi, Marc. Love this site!!! Do you know the difference between Bull-Dog Vegetable & Fruit Tonkatsu Sauce and the Bull-Dog Vegetable & Fruit (Chuno) Sauce? And if so, what is your opinion on substituting one for the other? Thanks!

    • http://norecipes.com Marc Matsumoto

      Hi Melissa, good question. They’re very similar with the main difference being viscosity. Tonkatsu sauce tends to be thicker than Chunou sauce. Any of these sauces will work for this recipe.

      • Melissa

        Thanks for the response!

        • liralenli

          Thanks for asking that, I had the exact same question…

  • Sherine

    Dear Marc, thanks for sharing your seven years’ worth of work – really appreciate your identifying the specific brands for all of us. I used to give in to S&B’s curry mix, or rather, the MSG in them. Not anymore :) Great, great site!

  • Allen

    You had a different version of your recipe until recently. Is there a was to still get to the earlier version?

    • http://norecipes.com Marc Matsumoto

      Hi Allen, this version is meant to be an improvement on the older version, which is why I replaced it. Was there something in particular that you preferred with the older version?

  • Joel

    Hi Marc, I’ve made this recipe many times (or rather, the previous one at least), but I’ve been wondering what other accompaniments to serve with a Japanese curry, like pickles and such.

    Love the site, and thanks in advance.

    • http://norecipes.com Marc Matsumoto

      Hi Joel, in Japan, curry is usually eaten with sweet pickles such as Fukushinzuke (daikon, cucumber, lotus root, red shiso, etc in a sweet brine), or rakkyou (an onion that’s kind of like ramps picked in sugar and vinegar). Because they can be hard to find in the US, I usually serve it there with sweet gherkins or chutney.

  • Gary Molotov

    what kind of apple would you recommend I usually eat green apples but those don’t seems traditionaly Japanese

  • Akiko Otani

    I loved the improvements made in this recipe. Today was a curry kind of day, cold and snowing all day. I had to use what we had so I used a ripe pear instead of an apple and Worchestershire sauce instead of the chunou sauce. The curry was delicious! My kids loved it!

  • labontegami

    Amazing. Can’t wait for the leftovers this week! I used some okonomiyaki sauce I had, added some more apple to fruit it up. Yum. I think the key is getting the onion carmelized enough. I don’t think I’ll be able to go back to the curry bricks again. Thanks!

  • Peter Oleif Petersen

    Great recipe, thank you. I will be trying this with my students later this week. I hope you don’t mind, though, I am giving them a translated version with the link to this page.

  • ddarko

    why is no one mentioning that this curry looks separated as f*#!? some of the graininess could be the apple, which i doubt, and i know curry seizes up very quickly as it cools, but regardless, i want a curry to presented to me that is mostly smooth. no offense marc, i love some of your food and would order your katsu-chocolate curry as my last meal before execution, but this pic is just ew.

    • http://norecipes.com Marc Matsumoto

      ddarko, it’s not separated. Roux does not separate. The texture is a mix of the onions, and crumbled potatoes, and carrots. I prefer my veggies melt-in your mouth tender, but this inevitable results in them crumbling a bit which is why the sauce is not smooth. If you want the sauce smoother you can puree your onion and not cook the potatoes and carrots as long.

      • ddarko

        ok, that makes sense. but are you saying your particular roux didnt separate or that roux’s in general dont separate? because if you ment in general, that would be a pretty ridiculous statement considering that’s all a roux is known for and I have personally had at least a dozen separate on me

        • http://norecipes.com Marc Matsumoto

          Hi ddarko, making a roux (vs adding fat and flour separately to the curry) has 3 purposes. The first is to toast the flour so it doesn’t give your curry a raw flour taste. The second is to allow each particle of flour to absorb some of the fat so that the flour doesn’t gelatinize on contact with the hot liquid causing lumps. The third is so the fat does not separate out from the liquid because the gelatinized particles of flour retain the fat rather than letting it escape back into the liquid. I’ve never heard of roux prepared with a proper ratio of fat to flour separating. I have heard of roux clumping, but that’s a separate issue (caused by adding roux straight to a boiling liquid). This can be avoided by either adding the roux with the heat turned off, or tempering the roux by slowly introducing hot liquid into the roux and then dumping that into the liquid once incorporated.

          • ddarkoo

            eh? isn’t it common knowledge that a roux separating is one of the main difficulties of handling it? just go to google and type in “roux separate”. i’ve had so many roux’s separate on me i lost count. lol. where i can literally see the particles of flour and fat floating in whatever liquid it’s in. roux’s are a mystery to me. hot to cold, cold to hot, hot to hot, cold to cold, i’m never really sure what will happen when im dealing with a roux.

          • http://norecipes.com Marc Matsumoto

            Hi ddarko, by “separate” do you mean the oil and flour literally separate or that you end up with clumps? If it’s the later, this can happen if you add roux to a boiling liquid because the flour doesn’t have a chance to disperse evenly into the liquid before it gels, leaving you with lumps of roux in your sauce. If you mean the oil and flour separate I’m really not sure what’s going wrong as I’ve never seen this happen. The only thing I can think of is that the recipe you were following included too much oil relative to the flour so that the flour wasn’t able to completely absorb the oil. I usually like to go with a flour:fat ratio of 1:1 by volume. I did take a look on Google, and while I see some people having the problem, there seems to be no consensus as to why it happens. Also, the questions are almost universally about roux for gumbo. I’m pretty sure roux for gumbo is prepared differently (you cook the roux much longer to get it dark brown). Perhaps this has something to do with it.

          • ddarko

            yes i literally mean the flour granules separate from the fat. it definitely happens more often with darker roux’s. when i was trying to figure out hayashi rice with a super dark roux, it ended up grainy/powdery literally every single time (15-20 attempts), no matter what proportion of flour/fat or type of fat and flour i used. i finally gave up and used a white/beige roux and the hayashi became smooth as can be. i have also had trouble with bechamels in the past but that may have been more clumping like you described and i just now make sure nothing is boiling hot and to go super slowly and whisk super aggressively. anywayz, love your recipes. keep up the good work!

  • Ayumi

    Hey guys usually when I cook pork curry for my dad (his a Japanese) I will always not saute the meat,onions,and other veg.
    I prefer boiling the onions first then add my carrots and a little bit later I add the meat.
    And when the meat is cook is when I add my curry sauce or bars and lastly I put my potatoes in.

    Trust me guys you will love this :)

    • jack

      Wow this is really simple (-:
      I will try this tomorrow
      Thanks for sharing ayumi •__•

    • http://norecipes.com Marc Matsumoto

      Hi Ayumi, that’s an interesting technique, but have you tried sautéing the onions and meat before? It will make your curry taste much better due to the Maillard reaction (which cannot be achieved through boiling). See this wikipedia article for an explanation of the Maillard reaction: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maillard_reaction

  • Izabela

    Marc, it turned out absolutely perfect – on my first try! I’m so happy with myself (and my tummy is soooo happy too ^^). Thank you for such a beautiful recipe! I was a bit confused as to how you’ve achieved the consistency of the caramelized onions pictured – mine looked just like brown onions may look, but they still worked just fine. I had to come up with my own mix to substitute for the S&B powder, as well as had to improvise with the chunou sauce.. but I’ve managed! It tasted so much better than ready curry cubes! I will never go back to using them. I may consider sourcing Japanese curry powder.. but as I know how to make it myself.. who knows ;)
    Thank you! ^^

    • http://norecipes.com Marc Matsumoto

      Hi Izabela, I’m glad to hear you enjoyed this! For the onions, they take on that consistency because they are caramelized to the core. If your onions looked like sautéed onions they may have been caramelized on the outside but they probably were not caramelized on the inside. It takes a long time and a bit of patience but try slicing your onions thinner next time to speed it up a bit. If you slice them on a mandolin they should get to the point of being fully caramelized in about 45 minutes. I hope that helps!

  • marjana

    Did you change the recipe? Because the last time I remember, it didnt use bayleaf and you changed tonkatsu sauce with tomato sauce + winchester sauce.
    I’ve made it before, it was really good. But I lost my note, so I came here to check the recipe. And it’s lil bit different from what I remember.
    Didnt mean to brag, I’m just lil bit confuse.

  • Ryan Patterson

    It seems the recipe changed. Would it be possible to change it back, or to repost it, or to email me the old one? I dont quite have it memorized

  • Dana

    My husband made this today, and it was amazing! In addition to following the recipe, he added 2 chicken bouillon cubes and some ground chili.

    • http://norecipes.com Marc Matsumoto

      Glad to hear you enjoyed it!

  • Mai

    I’ve had this on my to-do list for a long time and finally did it today. It was so easy and everyone loved it! I don’t think I’ll use the curry blocks ever again! Thanks Marc, love your website!

    • http://norecipes.com Marc Matsumoto

      Hi Mai, I’m so glad to hear you enjoyed it and that it was able to lure you away from those instant blocks:-)

  • Nuoli

    Can I get the old recipe? I liked it a lot!

  • Wilson Wong

    I must try this at sukiya

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