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.
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.
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:
- buyS&B Curry Powder, Oriental, 3 oz (85 g) (Pack of 2)$5.95
- buyBull-Dog - Vegetable & Fruit Sauce (Chuno) Sauce 10.1 Fl. Oz.$15.99
- buyLe Creuset Signature Enameled Cast-Iron 6-3/4-Quart Oval French (Dutch) Oven, Cassis$460.00$323.05 SAVE 30%
- buyPrimo Digital Kitchen Scale 11Lb/5Kg, Chrome color$39.95$24.90 SAVE 38%
- buyPrepworks by Progressive Magnetic Measuring Spoons, Stainless Steel - Set of 5$19.99$13.30 SAVE 33%
- Check out more of Marc's favorite kitchenware and supplies at the No Recipes Store.