Karé Pan (カレーパン) literally translates to “Curry Bread,” and it’s a popular snack food that’s found in bakeries, doughnut shops and convenience stores around Japan. Karé Pan comes in many variations, but it’s most typically a fried bun that’s filled with dry (sauceless) curry.
Unlike Indian or Thai curry, Japanese curry is made with a roux that makes the sauce more like a viscous gravy than its peers. Still, the presence of any sauce leaves the possibility of drips, and the turmeric in curry makes it a sure bet it will leave a stain. That’s why Curry Bread gets stuffed with a virtually sauceless curry. For my version, I’ve made a dry curry, but I’ve enlisted the help of some steamed kabocha squash, which helps bind the crumbly meat together. It also imparts the trademark sweetness of Japanese curry without adding any sugar or additional fruit.
Most versions of Karé Pan are fried, which is what gives them their crisp crust and uniform bronze hue, but they can also be baked in an oven. For this easy Curry Bread, I go with a pan-frying method by spreading butter on the outside of the bread. This ensures a uniformly crisp crust while controlling the amount of fat that gets absorbed into the bread.
The curry filling for Karé Pan typically includes a protein, aromatics, spices, and seasonings. I’ve used ground beef for this one, but ground chicken, pork, or TVP would work. If you do end up using a plant-based protein, I’d recommend adding some mushroom powder or vegetable bouillon to add some umami.
For the aromatics, I use a typical combination of onions, garlic, and ginger sauteed until they’re starting to caramelize. This not only brings out their sweetness, but the Maillard reaction also coaxes out the complex flavors that make curry so flavorful. The trick here is to mince the aromatics as finely as possible; by giving them more surface area, they brown much faster.
As for the spices and seasonings, Japanese curry powder is a blend of spices, including turmeric, cumin, and fenugreek, which gives Japanese curry its signature taste. Because we’ve cut some corners elsewhere, I like to season this with soy sauce to pack in some extra umami, and a dollop of ketchup rounds the curry out with a fruity sweetness.
The final time-saving measure is to avoid making a complicated roux by mashing in some steamed kabocha pumpkin. If you can’t find kabocha, a different sweet squash such as butternut or acorn will work as well.
Making a classic Curry Bread involves making curry and then kneading together a dough before proofing it and stuffing it with the filling. These buns then get coated in a layer of panko before being baked or deep-fried. It’s an involved process that takes about half a day to make, which is why most people opt to buy Karé Pan at a store. I’ve cut the process down to about fifteen minutes while retaining the essence of this popular snack by turning it into a sandwich.
By stuffing the curry filling between two thick slices of buttered shokupan (Japanese sandwich bread), along with a slice of cheese, the resulting sandwich can be pan-fried like a grilled cheese sandwich. The result is a crisp buttery crust enveloping the spicy curry and cheese.
Karé Pan is a great on-the-go meal and is perfect for packing into a bento box for lunch. If you decide to pack this Curry Bread into a bento, be sure you let it fully cool before you close the lid.
For curry filling
- 80 grams kabocha squash (peeled and sliced thinly)
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 120 grams onions (finely chopped)
- 6 grams garlic (finely minced)
- 4 grams ginger (finely minced)
- 150 grams ground beef
- 1 tablespoon Japanese curry powder
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons ketchup
For Curry Bread
- 3 tablespoons cultured unsalted butter (room temperature)
- 4 slices sandwich bread (sliced 1-inch thick)
- 2 slices American cheese
Make Curry Filling
- Add the sliced kabocha to a microwave-safe bowl along with 1 tablespoon of water. Cover the bowl with a lid or plastic wrap and microwave until the kabocha is tender (about 2 minutes at 600 watts).
- In a frying pan over medium heat, add the vegetable oil, onions, garlic, and ginger, and saute until the onions are tender and caramelized.
- Add the ground beef and use a spatula to crumble until it’s cooked most of the way through.
- Add the curry powder and soy sauce and stir-fry until any liquid has evaporated, and the curry is fragrant.
- Add the ketchup and cooked kabocha and mash the mixture together with a spatula or potato masher.
Make Curry Bread
- Spread the room temperature butter onto one side of each slice of bread. It’s helpful to think about how the bread fits together before doing this as you want the butter on the outside surfaces of the sandwich (not the inside).
- With the buttered side of two slices of bread facing down, add a slice of cheese to each.
- Top each slice of cheese with half of the curry mixture. Spread the mixture around to form an even layer, but don’t go all the way to the edges.
- Cover the curry with the remaining two sliced of bread with the buttered surface facing up.
Pan-fry the sandwiches one at a time in a frying pan over medium-low heat. Use a small flat lid to gently press on the sandwich, so the bread makes even contact with the pan.
When the sandwich has browned on one side, flip it over and place the lid back on the sandwich and let the other side brown.