Japanese Keema Curry is a mouthwatering style of Japanese dry curry that combines the traditional South Asian preparations of Keema (such as Dum Ka Keema, Keema Aloo, or Keema Matar) with the unique tastes of Japan. The dish is made with ground beef or pork, with a blend of caramelized aromatics and spices that gives the Japanese version a sweeter taste that's less spicy while packing boatloads of umami. Served over rice, it is a comforting and satisfying meal that's become a popular staple in recent years due to how quickly it can be made. In my curry recipe, I've used a few kitchen hacks to make this dish come together in the time it takes to cook a pot of rice without sacrificing an ounce of flavor.
Table of contents
Why This Recipe Works?
- Japanese curry is defined by the sweetness imparted by caramelized aromatics like onions and garlic. Pureeing them and adding baking soda cuts the caramelization time down from an hour to just 10 minutes.
- Japanese cuisine uses small quantities of flavorful ingredients to add Kakushiaji (literally "hidden flavor") to food. In this dish, I add cocoa powder, soy sauce, and Worcestershire sauce, which add umami and depth to the curry without being obviously present.
- While optional, serving an egg on top mellows out the spices while adding a smile-inducing richness to the curry. I used a raw yolk, but a poached egg, sunny side up egg, or hot spring egg will all work well.
- Aromatics - Japanese-style curry is characterized by a few things, but the most important for a good curry is caramelized aromatics. These not only lend depth and umami to the curry but also contribute sweetness, one of the things that set Japanese curry apart from Indian curry. Onions, garlic, and ginger are the most common trio of aromatics, but I've also added carrots to boost the sweetness. Caramelizing a pot of onions can take over an hour of diligent stirring to ensure they don't burn. To speed things up, I grate all the aromatics into a puree. This releases most of the water from the vegetables before they even hit the heat while maximizing surface area. This results in the rapid evaporation of the liquids so that the veggies themselves can start browning and caramelization.
- Baking soda - Another trick I use to speed up the caramelization process is to add baking soda to the pureed aromatics. This does a few things. The first is that it speeds up the breakdown of pectin in the vegetables, which softens them much faster. The second is that the higher pH catalyzes both caramelization and Maillard browning, which further cuts the time.
- Curry powder - Japanese curry powder is a unique blend of over a dozen spices. If you're up for a challenge, here's a recipe for making it from scratch; otherwise, S&B sells one in a can. It's unique from other curry powders because it includes Western herbs like dill and sage and Eastern spices like star anise and mandarin orange peel. You can use other types of curry powder or garam masala with turmeric if you can't find it, but keep in mind it's not going to taste like the curry you'd get in Japan. If you want to a little more heat, feel free to augment with some red chili powder or cayenne pepper.
- Cocoa powder - This may sound like an odd thing to add to a savory dish, but cocoa powder has a nutty, earthy flavor that gives the curry depth and makes it taste like the meat has been simmering away for hours.
- Ground meat - Any kind of ground meat would work here for beef to pork to lamb to chicken, but the most common combination here in Japan is a mixture of beef and pork. The main reason for this is that beef is extremely expensive here. I splurged for this recipe and went with all beef.
- Ketchup - One of the defining traits of Japanese curry is its sweetness. The caramelized aromatics will contribute some sweetness, but ketchup brings another sweet element and loads of umami from the tomatoes. If you have some moral objection to using ketchup, you can substitute tomato paste with sugar.
- Worcestershire sauce - Worcestershire sauce is mostly vinegar and spices and contains anchovies for umami. Japanese curry is not supposed to taste tangy, but by adding an almost imperceptible level of tartness, it balances the sweet and savory tastes. I recommend using a Western-style brand such as Lea & Perrins.
- Soy sauce - Soy sauce not only contributes salt to the Keema but also adds umami. I use the soy sauce sparingly with salt, so its flavor doesn't overpower the other components.
- Egg - Japanese Keema Curry has a more intense flavor profile than regular Japanese curry, so it's commonly served with an egg on top. Here in Japan, our eggs are produced and handled in a way that makes them relatively safe to eat raw, but I wouldn't recommend doing this in most places. If you don't live in Japan you could poach your eggs, cook them sunny side up, or give my onsen tamago recipe a try.
- Garnish - I used the egg as the garnish, but you can sprinkle some chopped cilantro on top or add some green peas to the Keema when you add the seasonings for a little extra protein.
How to Make Japanese Keema Curry
The first thing you want to do is puree the onions, carrots, ginger, and garlic. This can be done with a grater or by chopping up the ingredients and throwing them in a food processor.
Then you want to add the pureed aromatics into a pan along with the baking soda and boil the mixture while stirring. As the heat and baking soda break down the pectin in the vegetables, they'll start to get jammy and shiny. Keep stirring and reducing them until the sugars begin to caramelize. This will take about eight minutes. If it starts burning or browning too quickly, turn down the heat.
Now you can add the oil to the pan to caramelize the aromatics while stirring them constantly. The mixture should only take a minute or two to get golden brown and shiny.
Then you want to add the curry powder and cocoa powder and mix it into the caramelized aromatics. This toasts the spices, but you need to work quickly (this should only take about 30 seconds), or they will burn and get bitter.
Now you have curry paste that can be stored in the freezer to be used later. To finish the beef Keema Curry, add the ground meat and mince it up using the side of a spatula while working it into the curry paste.
When the meat is cooked through and crumbly, season the Keema with soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, ketchup, and salt and work it into the meat until there is almost no liquid remaining.
Serve it With
In Japan, Keema Curry is almost always served with Japanese short-grain rice, but you could also serve it with a flat bread like naan, chapati or paratha. It's also delicious stuffed it into a sandwich, or with your favorite grain alternatives. I topped mine with a raw egg yolk, but you can read about alternatives in the ingredients section above. I would also suggest serving this with some kind of simple green salad with a light dressing such as ponzu.
Other Japanese Curry Recipes
- 200 grams onions
- 100 grams carrot
- 12 grams garlic
- 12 grams ginger
- ¼ teaspoon baking soda
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 2 tablespoons curry powder
- 1 teaspoon cocoa powder
- 450 grams ground beef
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tablespoons ketchup
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 3 eggs (optional)
- Grate the onion, carrot, garlic, and ginger into a pan and then stir in the baking soda.
- Put the pan over medium-high heat and bring the mixture to a boil. Once it starts to boil, stir the mixture continuously until the excess liquid has evaporated and the mixture forms a thick paste (~8 minutes).
- Add the vegetable oil and turn down the heat to medium. Saute the paste until it's golden brown and shiny (~1-2 minutes).
- Add the curry powder and cocoa powder and quickly stir it in, being careful not to burn the spices (~30 seconds).
- Add the ground beef and use the side of a spatula to break up the clumps of meat and work it into the curry paste (~4 minutes).
- Once the beef is cooked and crumbly, add the soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, ketchup, and salt. Stir-fry the mixture until the seasonings are well combined, and most of the liquid has evaporated (~1 minute).
- Serve the Keema Curry with rice, and you can top it with your favorite style of egg.
I wasn't sure how this would turn out but your choice of sauces gives this a nice edge. Great for a batch cook, too.
Marc Matsumoto says
Glad to hear you enjoyed it Andrew! This is fairly low moisture so it also freezes well.
Can you make this with some other kind of meat? Or is Keema curry typically made from ground beef in Japan?
Marc Matsumoto says
Hi Al, keema is usually made with a blend of beef+pork because beef is so expensive here, but you can make it with any ground meat.
Kathy Stroup says
Back making this again because it's so DELICIOUS + EASY! It's great for packing into a lunch box, too. Of course, I use my homemade curry powder and that takes it to the next level! Thanks for demystifying Japanese Curry for me!
Mahalo for this recipe! My family loves all forms of curry so I'm sure this one will be a hit!
You're welcome Randy, I hope they enjoy it!