Japanese Curry Fried Rice (カレーチャーハン)
Although it didn’t originate in Japan, the Japanese have adapted curry to suit their tastes, and it’s become one of the most popular home-cooked meals in Japan. This curry fried rice is a mashup of Japanese-style Curry and another home-cooking staple: Chahan.
My mom would often make this for lunch by making an ordinary pan of fried rice and adding curry powder. I’ve gone a step further by incorporating other aspects of Japanese Curry Rice. It comes together in under ten minutes, which qualifies it for “quick lunch” status, and the spicy curry along with the sweet caramelized onions is just the flavor you need to sate a Japanese Curry craving.
Table of contents
Why This Recipe Works?
- Using fried rice allows you to crumble it into individual grains before adding it to the pan. This makes stir-frying the rice much easier than starting with a giant clump of rice.
- One of the key attributes of Japanese Curry is its mild sweetness. This is achieved in this fried rice by caramelizing the onions.
- A drizzle of chunou sauce adds some acidity while caramelizing around the rice at the end.
Ingredients for Japanese Curry Fried Rice
- Onions – The sweetness and flavor of caramelized onions are key to a good Japanese curry, so for my curry fried rice, I like adding some minced onions and get them good and brown.
- Ground beef – Japanese curry almost always has a meat-base, and the most common meat is beef. I like using ground meat because the pieces end up small enough to blend in the grains of rice. Other ground meat, such as pork or chicken, will work as well. If you want to make this vegan or vegetarian, I recommend using ground mushrooms (you can check my vegan mapo tofu recipe for how I do that).
- Stale cooked rice – The key to any good fried rice is to start with cooked rice that has been in the fridge until it turns hard and crumbly. This is because the starch in the rice has undergone retrogradation (a fancy way of saying that the starch has returned to its original state). This allows you to crumble the rice into individual grains before adding it to the pan so that each grain can be coated with the seasoning and browned. Since this is Japanese-style fried rice, I’m using short-grain rice, but this will work with long-grain rice as well.
- Japanese curry powder – Japanese-style curry powder is a unique blend of over a dozen spices, including some unusual ones like anise, citrus zest, and bay leaves, so if you want your fried rice to taste like Japanese curry, I recommend looking for a Japanese curry powder like S&B brand. Other curry powders or even garam masala will work, but it’s not going to taste quite the same.
- Green pepper – Green peppers are not a common addition to Japanese curry (unless you’re from Okinawa), but I love the color and flavor they add, which is why I often add them to my curry, as well as my curry fried rice. I used a mild green pepper called piman in Japan, but it’s similar in taste and texture to Anaheim chilies. If you want your Curry Chahan to be spicier, you can use spicy green chilies like jalapeno, serrano, or Thai bird chilies.
- Chunou sauce – Chunou sauce (中濃ソース), which is sometimes spelled “Chuno sauce,” is a sweet and tangy fruit and vegetable sauce that’s in the same class of condiments as tonkatsu sauce and okonomiyaki sauce (these are both good substitutes). It includes tomatoes, prunes, carrots, apples and onions, and a variety of spices like cinnamon and cloves. If you can’t find it, a 50:50 mix of ketchup and Worcestershire sauce will make a suitable substitute.
- Seasonings – I chose to keep this simple, so in addition to the chunou sauce, the only other seasoning I include is salt. That being said, this is even better with a splash of soy sauce added at the end, which adds a bit more umami.
How to Make Japanese Curry Fried Rice
The first thing you want to do is crumble the rice into individual grains so you don’t have any clumps. If your rice is still sticking together, you need to leave it in the fridge longer until it goes stale. If you’re in a rush, I’ve found this goes faster by freezing the rice.
To make the chahan, you want to start by partially caramelizing the onions in oil in a pan over medium-high heat. The finer you mince your onions have more surface area they will have, which will make this step go faster. You want to get them to the point where they’re tender and light brown in color. Don’t overdo it in this step, or the onions will burn by the time the rice is done.
Next, you want to add the ground meat and brown it, breaking up the chunks into small crumbles. This helps the meat blend in with the grains of rice.
When the meat is cooked through and evenly crumbled, add the rice and mix everything together, coating each grain with oil.
Then you want to sprinkle on the curry powder, salt, and peppers. You want to make sure you sprinkle on the curry powder and salt evenly across all of the rice; otherwise, it’s going to clump up in one spot and be very difficult to distribute evenly.
Now you just need to toss and stir-fry the rice until it’s warmed through, and the curry powder is evenly distributed.
To finish it off, drizzle the chunou sauce over the rice, and continue tossing and stir-frying until it caramelizes around the rice.
I like to let the rice fry undistributed for a bit to get a little bit of browning on the rice. This adds a wonderfully nutty flavor, but the chunou sauce has a tendency to burn, so be careful not to overdo it.
To serve the curry fried rice, just load it up into a bowl and invert it onto a plate to get a perfect hemisphere of rice.
Other Fried Rice Recipes
Due to Japanese-style curry’s popularity, curry seasoning is used in everything from sandwiches to potato chips to noodle soups in Japan. It’s also often added as a seasoning for fried rice.
Fried rice is known as Chahan in Japan (some regions call it Yakimeshi), so curry fried rice is known as Curry Chahan.
ka like copy
re the “re” sound does not exist in the English language and the closest approximation is to say “rain” with the tip of your tongue at the front of your mouth.
cha like charge
han like honk
This recipe includes ground meat; however, you can easily substitute minced mushrooms (such as button or shiitake) for the meat. You wouldn’t want to use something like tofu or tempeh because you need a substitute that will contribute umami to the rice.
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 100 grams onions finely minced
- 150 grams ground beef or other ground meat
- 400 grams cooked rice use stale rice
- 1 tablespoon Japanese curry powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 50 grams mild green pepper diced
- 2 tablespoon chunou sauce
- Heat a frying pan over medium-high heat and add the oil and onions. Fry these until they’re light brown in color.
- Add the ground beef and break it up using a spatula.
- When the meat is cooked through, add the rice and stir together to coat it with oil.
- Sprinkle the curry powder and salt evenly over the rice, and then add the green peppers.
- Stir-fry and toss the fried rice until the curry fried rice is uniform in color, and the rice is heated through.
- Drizzle the chunou sauce over the fried rice and toss to distribute evenly. Once the sauce is mixed through, you can stop stirring periodically to give the rice a little bit of browning, but be careful not to burn it.