While most Americans know Sapporo for the eponymous beer, it’s also the 5th largest city in Japan, and the capital of Hokkaido. A stonesthrow away from Siberia, it snows six months out of the year, and is famous for the tasty things come out of the frigid waters.
Whether it’s the bitter cold, or the historical Russian and Mongolian influences in the region, they do things a little differently up there. The country-side is a patchwork of potato and dairy farms that looks more like a scene from Denmark than what you’d expect from the northernmost island of Japan.
I’ve mentioned before that Japanese curry is the de facto national dish of Japan. With its sweet roux-thickened gravy, Japanese curry seems like just the type of dish to take the edge off sub-zero temperatures, and yet determined to buck the trend, Sapporo has come up with its own take on curry.
Soup Curry (スープカレー) is a light curry flavored soup served with some type of meat, and a rainbow of roasted vegetables. Although it’s a relatively recent concoction, soup curry has blown up over the past decade, with shops specializing in the local dish almost as abundant as shops specializing in another local dish: miso ramen.
Despite its popularity, I’ve never been a huge a fan of soup curry. Closer to vegetable soup than a curry, It’s surprising how little spice gets added to most restaurant versions of this dish. Another problem is that the vegetables are cooked independent of the soup, doing neither the veggies or soup any favors in the flavor department. Still, I love curry from all walks of life, and it was with this resolve that I set out to make a soup curry that tastes as good as it looks.
For the chicken I used a technique I learned while making Kabsah (chicken and rice). First I boil the chicken in a 50/50 blend of tomato juice and chicken stock. This not only tenderizes the chicken, it enriches the flavor of the soup. Once the chicken is cooked, I remove it from the liquid, seasoned it, and then roast it until the skin turns golden brown and crisps. This method gives you the best of both worlds, with tender moist chicken, a well browned exterior, and a deeply satisfying broth.
For the vegetables, I like to flash fry them, because it caramelizes the sugars, making them sweeter while preserving their vibrant colors. To ensure that they’re just as flavorful as the curry itself, I dust all the fried veggies with a mixture of garam masala and salt. Be warned though, you may want to make some extra as it’s hard to resist snacking on them as you dust them with the fragrant salt.
Like a traditional Japanese curry, the sweetness and depth of the soup is largely dependant on how diligently you caramelize the onions, garlic and ginger, which is why it pays to be patient and get them as caramelized as possible. Lastly, to round off the acidity of the tomatoes and give the soup a bit more richness, I like to add coconut milk to the soup at the very end.
I used S&B brand curry powder, which is the ubiquitous curry powder in Japan, that gives Japanese curry its distinct taste. If you can’t find it near you, you could substitute another brand, which should work just fine. As for the vegetables, I used bell peppers, okra, carrots, kabocha, lotus root, eggplant and small potatoes, but any vegetable that will fry well and is colorful will work just fine.
- Melt the butter in a saute pan over medium high heat and then add the garlic and ginger. Saute until fragrant and just starting to brown and then add the onions, bay leaves, green cardamom, black cardamom, and cinnamon stick.
- Turn down the heat to medium low and fry the onions, stirring periodically until they are a caramel color and have reduced to about 1/4 of their original volume (30-40 minutes).
- When the onions are caramelized, add the curry powder and fry until fragrant.
- Add the tomato juice, chicken stock and soy sauce, and turn up the heat to bring the soup to a boil.
- Add the chicken legs and chili peppers (optional), cover with a lid, and turn down the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook for 40 minutes.
- While the chicken cooks, prepare all the vegetables and mix the garam masala with 1 teaspoon of salt in a small bowl.
- When the chicken is done, remove the chicken from the liquid and place on a wire rack over a sheet pan. Let the surface of the chicken dry out for a few minutes and then rub with a little vegetable oil and sprinkle all surfaces with the garam masala salt mixture.
- Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
- Add 1-inch of oil to a heavy bottomed pot and heat to 340 degrees F (170C) and line a wire rack with paper towels.
- Add the coconut milk to the curry and add salt as needed, keep it warm over low heat.
- Roast the chicken in the oven until the skin is golden brown (7-10 minutes).
- Fry each of the vegetables until they are tender but still vibrant in color. Keep in mind that some vegetables take longer than others to cook. For instance carrots will take a few minutes vs okra which will cook in a few seconds. Drain the fried vegetables on paper towels and sprinkle with the garam masala salt.
- To plate, pile the vegetables on the chicken and pour the curry soup around the chicken and vegetables. Serve with rice or bread.