Liralen Li (liralen) wrote,
Liralen Li

My Take on From-Scratch Japanese Curry with Variations

I think it was in Ugly Delicious, that one of the restaurant owners said that a recipe is like sheet music, everyone takes it and interprets it their own way. This started as Marc Matsumoto's second take on from scratch Japanese Curry, he's since come out with a newer version that amuses me by making some of the same changes that I made, but after going through mine in detail, my son Jet pointed out that mine is still significantly different in technique as well as a few key ingredients, and since he wanted to give my recipe out to some of his friends, I'm writing this up.

Given these interesting times, I've been making this a few times with the frozen bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs we get in six packs from Costco and throw in the freezer when we get them; but I've also made a variation with on-sale beef chuck that is equally delicious and tender, but has a completely different flavor profile due to the beef. And... since we *do* have the curry roux pucks in the pantry and I don't have quite as much Ghost Curry powder from Savory Spice as I'd like, I thought it would be smart to point out which ingredients and steps you could just throw a brick of curry roux into instead. There's also a variation where you can prep the bulk of the work in advance and then just throw the rest of it together thirty minutes before you want to eat.

So it's going to be important for you to read and understand a lot of these steps before you go through them so you really know what to pick and how to go about it, and I would not be unhappy if you printed out these instructions and just crossed out the parts you do NOT need.  *laughs* Also, you can click on any of the photographs and it should bring you to a larger version of the picture that you can zoom in on.

The ingredient list is going to be a little data dense. I'm writing these in the order in which I prep them, and if they have a star by them are optional if you're using a brick of curry roux, but if you DO add them they'll lend a lot more flavor to the finished brick curry. The things with a ! are things you want to completely leave OUT if you're using a brick of roux. Use everything if you're a from-scratch fanatic. I'm also adding picture of the prepped ingredients for reference.

2 large onions skinned, half, and sliced pole to pole -- on a dishwashable dinner plate.
* 1 or 2 cloves garlic peeled and finely minced
* 1/2 inch long 1 inch wide chunk of ginger, peeled and minced fine

I've also put them all on one plate as they'll go in at the same time.

! 1 apple, grated on the coarse holes of a grater

John usually buys Galas for us to eat. This can be substituted with any fruit you really like, it's for sweetness and body to the curry, so we've used a peach and I've used frozen blueberries that I thawed and mashed. I bet some pineapple would work, fresh berries if that's what you have (but not ones with big seeds like blackberries?), or the classic Asian pear would probably give exactly the same notes as an apple. The same sweetness is already included in the curry pucks, which is why you don't need this if you have one of those.
2 15.5 oz cans low sodium chicken stock, I open these, so that they're ready to pour

Then from the left to the right... five things that can go into one container, ready to dump in.
! 1 Bay leaf
! 1 teaspoon kosher salt (or more to your taste, I salt very lightly)
* teaspoon cocoa powder (I prefer Dutched for the lower acid)
! 2 Tablespoons Ketchup (or Italian tomato paste if you're snobbier about it)
! 2 Tablespoons Tonkatsu Sauce (also known as Bull Dog Vegetable and Fruit Sauce)

And then these three should be in their on little bowl:
! 2 Tablespoons S&B Curry Powder  (or other unsalted mild Curry Powders like Savory's or Penzey's, whatever you like, but S&B is kinda a Classic)
! 2 teaspoons Garam Masala (Penzey's makes a good blend, or Heston Blumenthal's garam masala from his chicken tikka recipe makes oodles of a really flavorful blend and I've been slowly working through a jelly jar filled with the stuff)
* 1 teaspoon of Savory Spice's Ghost Pepper Curry Powder (this is what makes this curry *mine*, and what my boys love about it, I think... though it's kind of the star on top of the Christmas Tree.)

If you're using boxed roux, use the six serving size block, or the amount you'd use for four to six cups of liquid. If you're doing from-scratch, you do not need any boxed roux, you'll be making your own.

I know, that's a lot of prep, but I want to do all the not-meat prep first, before I contaminate my cutting board space with the meat.

I will also add, as needed:
Water, varying depending on our arid Colorado day

For the from-scratch roux:
2 Tablespoons of flour
and for the beef curry
2 Tablespoons butter or oil, whichever you prefer
Another 2-4 Tablespoons of cooking oil for browning the beef and cooking the onions
For the chicken curry we'll be rendering the skins for all your fat needs

To finish the curry:
2-3 carrots
2-3 potatoes
1/2 a bag of frozen peas
Rice -- I prefer short grain brown rice, as that's what we eat. Feel free to use whatever you love

So, two choices of meat, and I would stick with only beef OR chicken, and approximately two pounds of whichever you choose.

First, beef. I usually get chuck. I like seven bone chuck as it's nearer the shoulder blade, and therefore usually cooks up more tender, but I'll take boneless if there's as little on the shelves as there has been these days. I trim it of all fat and bone, and then cut it into chunks. The Misen knife has an 8" blade if you want to compare to see how big the chunks are, but I think they're about an inch each way?  Close...


Chicken prep is a little more involved. It's just bone-in, skin-on thighs. Do not use white meat, it will get terribly dry and be awful. Dark meat is happy with all the cooking, and does well with both high heat and low and slow, and I do both in this recipe. I take the skins off, debone the meat (making sure all cartilage and fat chunks are out), and then cut it into bite-size pieces. KEEP the fat and the skin for the cooking process. I do throw out the bones. Schmaltz is amazing.

Here you can see my work station with a bowl for all the commercially compostable items [Longmont has commercial composting, which will take anything with a biological origin, including bones, fat, and meat], and my mise en place. *laughs*

I'm going to start with the whole process for making the beef curry, first, as it's a little simpler than the chicken, but it's got the same spine as the chicken curry recipe. The substitutions will be easy to explain when I have the main stuff down. I am, however, going to point out the steps you do not have to do if you use boxed roux.

With the beef version, I salt and pepper the beef chunks, heat my cast iron pot up on medium high heat, add a good two tablespoons of oil, and then brown the chunks in two batches in a heavy pot. I prefer NOT non-stick as I want to build a fond while doing all this, but a non-stick pan might be easier for those who are just starting? The sticky pan can gather enough stuff to burn if you're not careful about scraping a lot... so do as you'd like to do.

Take half the beef, scatter is around the pan so that there's plenty of room, and then let it just sit for two to four minutes. Turn them only when they're crusty and brown and then give them a few more minutes on that side. This isn't to cook the beef, it's just to brown it all and get the good caramelized flavor. Take all the beef out and put it on a plate and set it aside.

Into that pan, put the garlic and ginger and make sure there's enough neutral oil with it to let it sizzle until it smells really good. When you've done that, add all the onions.

It will seem like a LOT of onions, and it kind of is. Sprinkle a good hefty pinch of salt all over the onions, use a scraper or wooden spoon to stir the onions until they're all covered in the garlic and ginger flavored oil; and then turn your stove down to medium low and put a lid on the onions. Set a timer for ten minutes, but every few minutes (three if you have to have an exact number) open the lid, stir the onions and do your best to scrap clean the bottom of the pot. It will get easier the later you go in this steaming period. The closed lid traps escaping steam, and the water from the onions will make it easy to deglaze the pan with the onions themselves.

By the end of the ten minutes your pot should look something like this picture, it should have become mostly clean.

The next step, however, is going to dirty it up again, which is to cook the onions on medium to medium high until they're reduced and caramelized significantly.  The steaming step should have driven a lot of the water out, but they still have to break down and heat up enough to caramelize on the bottom and sides of the pan.

Both this step and the browning of the meat lend a lot of flavor and depth to the resulting curry. It's possible to make edible curry without these steps, and you'd save a lot of time... but...  *laughs* I am not sure it would be as good.

So this is what the onions should look like when you're "done". You might be able to go even further, but I usually run out of patience at about this point, where they're lost at least half their volume and there's fond building up on the bottom of the pan that I cannot get up just by stirring vigorously.

The curry mix comes in here. Do NOT use this if you're doing boxed curry roux. Though if you're doing the option of adding the Ghost Pepper Curry anyway, go ahead and do this toasting step with just that spoonful of spice mixed into the onions. Otherwise, skip to adding the chicken broth.

The S&B, ghost pepper curry, and garam masala go on the onions, while the heat is still pretty high, and we're toasting the spices in the oil still on the onions for two to three minutes. The scent of the toasting spices fills my house and this usually when the boys come wandering in saying, "Wow, that smells so Goooood."

The curry and the caramelization of the onions are going to make your pan a complete mess. It is going to stick everywhere, and by the end of the toasting time, it's going to seem like everything is going to burn, but we want it to get as dark as it can without burning, as burnt spice or onions will be bitter. So none of that.

Right at the end of those minutes, start pouring in the chicken broth. This is why I have to have the cans already opened before I start anything else. I've run into this step without pre-opened cans and have been running around like mad trying to find the lost can opener and swearing at the edges of the cans and start to smell something burning... trust me, you want the two broth cans open before you start on the onions.

The broth deglazes the pan. Scrap everything up off the bottom. If you're going all scratch, this is the time to add the cocoa powder, the bay leaf, the ketchup and tonkatsu sauce, and the apple. Use water to rinse out the apple grater, and if you put the sauces in a cup, use some water to rinse them into the pot.

Either way you're doing it, add the beef back into the pot, add enough liquid to make sure everything is covered (it's okay to have extra liquid at this point), and bring it up to a boil. I then put it in my Wonder Bag, a no-energy slow cooker and let it sit until about forty-five minutes before dinner. If you have that option, go for it. If you're making this right before dinner, then just keep going. You can also just leave it on a super low simmer for about half an hour to two hours, depending on how tender you like your beef. Or, I guess, you could have done all these steps in an Instant Pot and can leave it on low slow cooking until that same forty-five minutes before dinner.

For the from-scratch folks, make a from-scratch roux with the two tablespoons of flour and two tablespoons of the fat of your choice. Cook it until there's no raw flour smell, and you don't have to let it brown much. Let it cool to room temp.

Forty Five Minutes Before Dinner

First, start cooking your rice.
Bring your curry back up to a simmer. Then peel and cut some carrots, two or three would be great. The way to get these odd chunks is to roll the carrot as you cut them, and cut the next chunk from the face of the previous cut. About a quarter to a third of a roll will present the face to you and just cut at an angle that allows you to make all the pieces about the same size. Since the width of the carrot varies from top to bottom, cut the pieces from the thicker end of a lesser percentage of the whole carrot than the ones at the narrower end.

Dump all the carrot pieces into your curry and stir to make sure that nothing has stuck to the bottom, and then cut your potatoes into bite sized pieces and put them into the curry. Now is the time to see if you need a little more water. All the vegetable should be covered, and if they're not, add some water to make sure that they're all in the liquid. Bring it to a steady simmer. Set a timer for 20 minutes. At the end of the time, test a piece of potato with a fork or just eat it to see if it's cooked through. If it is, add your roux.

If you're doing boxed roux, break it up and stir it in, making sure it all dissolves into the broth. Bring your curry back up to a simmer, and a real boil will let the boxed roux thicken your curry completely.

From-scratch folks should, here, add the cooled roux you made earlier to the hot mix. Again, bring to a boil to thicken completely.

Add your half a bag of frozen peas, stir them through, and you're ready to eat!! I like putting the rice on one side of the bowl and the curry on the other, my husband loves just ladling the curry on top of the rice. Have at it as you wish.

For the chicken curry, I actually start by rendering the skins and fat to get the chicken fat.  I then pour all but 2 Tablespoons of the fat into a container, and use that 2 Tablespoons to brown the chicken pieces. I add a bit more of it back in order to saute the ginger and garlic, and a bit more for the onions. And I use 2 Tablespoons of the fat to make the roux. Otherwise it's the same as the beef curry. And, of course, I can use the deep-fried chicken skin as a condiment to my curry, as you can see in the initial picture.

It is a pretty long process, no matter which one you decide to do. The boxed curry definitely cuts down on the things you need to find in order to make curry, with the boxed roux you only really have to get the vegetables and meat, and nearly none of the seasonings or deal with making your own roux.

We've riffed on this recipe for a while, including using kobutcha, parsnips, or other root vegetables and winter squash that we had instead of the potatoes and carrots. I've definitely done the boxed version when I didn't have the time or fortitude to do it All. I've used pre-cooked chicken leftover from a roast or rotisserie chicken instead of cutting up and browning the raw chicken, and while it doesn't taste quite as good, it's still pretty good. And for a very long time, I didn't have the ghost chili curry, but wow, it's good.

So go and make up variations of your own! And I guess, really, it's an American curry... inspired by Japanese curry, so make it as you like it.
Tags: cooking, family

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