I thought everyone in the world knows how to make Japanese curry rice. I mean, if you’ve ever had it, then the ingredients are pretty clear–and given that the sauce base consists of prepackaged chunks that you mix with water–it seems relatively simple. But as it turns out, I know two people who actually have no idea how to make Japanese curry!
Well, if you fit within that small group, here’s an easy and delicious Japanese curry rice recipe. This is how I always make it–with ingredients that most of us always have at home.
This is a fantastic dish for dinners, where the flavors will impress and it took you minimal time to prepare it. One dish, plus rice, makes for a filling and hearty meal, and you need the most basic of ingredients to present this dish. You can serve it with a side of kimchi (which rocks, by the way), or some type of light, slightly sweet and vinegary pickled vegetables. Nothing heavy, like bread, would go with this dish unless you’re serving it as a dip rather than on a plate with rice.
I’ve had curry with brown rice, and while it’s fine–if ever there is a time you need to splurge and eat white rice–this is it.
The following photos are from two different evenings when I cooked curry–and I mixed up the photos. One night was just beef, and the other night was pork and beef with extra goodies in the curry. I am using both sets to show that Japanese curry can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be.
Before you do anything–and this may sound obvious–but make the rice!
I admit that on more than occasion, I’ve made curry to only open the rice cooker and find either a tiny bit of rice left good for half a person, or no rice at all–because I completely forgot to make the rice.
Not going down that path again.
There’s very little that’s worse than being so hungry, hands shaking from lack of blood sugar, stirring and cooking up curry only to find no rice. You feel like falling to the ground crying and screaming!
There is no reason you can’t eat curry with fluffy, American white rice like Uncle Ben’s. Well, there is no reason other than the fact that it wouldn’t taste anything like Japanese curry is supposed to taste. Now, with Indian Curry — sure, basmati rice is used all of the time so it’s rather more inappropriate to use sticky Asian rice. But for Japanese curry — nope, Asian rice to the death. I am a loyal Daipoong Rice consumer and would rather eat nails than change rice. But if you find one that says medium grain, sticky rice, Asian rice or sushi rice–you are probably getting a stickier version of rice.
While I love slightly wet rice and abhor dry rice of any kind, with curry — the moisture has to be just right bordering on dry rather than wet. The only time wet rice sucks is when you’re pouring more wet stuff on top of it–like curry.
Food Prep for Japanese Curry
Over the years, I’ve just become accustomed to always using pork and beef for Japanese curry. When I make Indian curry from scratch, I almost always use chicken, but for some reason, the chicken just pales and diminishes to the background when used with Japanese curry whereas the texture of beef and the flavors of pork extend just the right amount of both. If possible, I’ll use half and half; if I had to pick one over the other, I’ll use beef–ribeye steaks, preferably.
Unlike other dishes where I’d recommend trimming the fat, don’t trim the fat off the steak. For the pork, it depends on what cut you use. My personal favorite–well, outside of pork belly, but for once, it’s not a good cut for this dish–are country style pork should ribs. These are thick edges cut off the shoulder steak that have incredibly good marbling while remaining less fatty than the belly. The meat is also sensational boiled, and softens to a melting chunk of goodness, making it wonderful for curry. For this cut, if there’s excessive fat, I’ll trim it off, but otherwise, I slice them into even-sized cuts with the beef.
Here’s a closeup of how I sliced the pork; the beef would be about the same size.
Now, onto vegetable prep.
By the way, when making curry, make sure you prepare everything before you begin the actual cooking; it makes life so much easier.
Depending on what you have available, the usual vegetable suspects in Japanese curry are potatoes, carrot and onions. I prefer to not make curry without potatoes, and I have no issues with skipping the carrots. Did I ever mention that I’m not a fan of carrots? They are so heavy on a perfume-like fragrance that they’re not my thing, but in curry, they soften up and lose a lot of that fragrance so I don’t mind using it. Onions are garlic are a must though, so if you don’t have those, make something else.
The key to chopping up the vegetables is keeping each vegetable to the same size so that they cook evenly. The different vegetables do not have to be the correct size, since they’ll go in at different times depending on their size and how long they take to cook. I often like to make huge chunks of potatoes so they look at bulky when poured upon rice and provide great texture when you chew into them, but it doesn’t make for “pretty curry.” In this example, I made them larger than the carrots. You don’t want to make the potatoes too small if you want a good looking curry, because as that cooks down, they’ll become round as they release their overcooked outer edges.
Since you’ll be sauteeing the onions, keep them a small size so that they cook and brown more easily. That said, I’ve often just tossed in the onions without browning them and it makes–absolutely.no.difference. What can I say?
It really depends on whether you want to bite into onions or not. If you love the crunch and flavor of fresh onions (and the pungency), then tossing it in at the end is completely workable! While sauteeing it with the garlic and meat gives the meat lots of flavor, with curry, you’re boiling it all down that in the end, the onions are barely discernible in texture and only contribute to overall flavor.
I like using yellow onions for curry, but red onions work just as well. Simply use whatever you have on-hand.
Above is one shot of all you need to make a delicious Japanese Curry. You can always add more stuff, but it’s not needed; with just the ingredients shown along with your box of curry, you’re good to go.
Much like the onions, the garlic can be as big or small as you want. Biting into a big chunk of garlic may be faus pax but come on — it’s absolutely wonderful when it’s cooked down. So if you prefer that, sautee them whole, or in this case, I sliced them thinly as for today’s recipe, I am frying this with the meat.
While there are a considerable amount of pictures and words above, note that we haven’t cooked a thing yet. This was all prep, and if you have a cutting board and knife, you’re golden.
Cooking Japanese Curry
I’m using my 8 Quart All-Clad stockpot (I cease to exist without this). You heat it up on high, and once it’s really hot, put about 2 T of vegetable oil in. I don’t want to impart any olive oil flavor in this, so keep it to vegetable oil or canola oil which work best for this purpose.
First, I will sweat all the garlic and onions. If you have the patience to brown them, go for it. In my case, my objective is the flavor the oil and ready it for the beef–but as mentioned above, you can skip this step and add the items to the “soup” after the meat is done. If you decide to go with this method, as I always say — salt each step of the way. Season the garlic and onions lightly.
In order to provide as much contact to a heated surface as possible for the meat, I remove the garlic and onions to the side. Whenever possible, I don’t like standing by a hot stove stirring, so I let the meat brown on its own, whereas with the garlic and onions, I’d be standing there stirring. Let the meat cook all the way through, keeping in mind that you have pork in this. Season with salt and pepper as you cook, and if you have it, you can put in a tsp. of garlic powder at this point.
Once the meat is cooked through and browned to some degree, add back the garlic and onions, and toss in the raw carrots. Cook for another 2-3 minutes so that the carrots are nicely coated and have begun the cooking process.
Then, add 6-8 cups of water. This will be determined much by how much meat and vegetables you used. In my case, this is about 7 C of water since my potatoes were large and I was very generous with meat….as one should always be! :-)
Bring the water to a full, rolling boil.
Once the water is fully boiling, taste a carrot; when your carrots are cooked through without crunching, then add your potatoes. This will be around 3-4 minutes after it’s rolling at full boil. For the potatoes, you’ll boil for another 5-7 minutes. Make sure to taste one intermittently (keeping in mind it’s about the hottest thing you’ll ever put in your mouth–trust me, I know!) or pierce a fork through one of the potatoes–when it gives without much resistance, it’s time to put in the curry. You do not want to overcook the potatoes if you’re serving this to guests, because they’ll get smaller and smaller while the starches make the curry thicker and thicker. Not appealing, thoough it tastes fine.
I’ve mentioned before that I will never run out of frozen corn and frozen peas in my fridge. Well, corn actually works really nicely in curry, too, because of the sweetness, but since that’s not truly customary, I didn’t add corn. I did, however, take about a cup of peas and defrosted it at this point by putting them in cold water. After about five minutes, the peas are ready to be tossed into the curry.
Put aside the peas will lose their green color if cooked for any length of time.
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Now, let’s talk about Japanese curry sauce mix for a moment.
In the US, the best available curry sauce will be S&B Curry Sauce Mix. It comes in a variety of spiciness levels, though HOT is completely fine for even Mr. K, who tends to not be able to eat anything too spicy. In my case, it barely even registers so I usually increase the spiciness (shown below). If you still need less spiciness, consider the Medium and Mild versions, too–identical in curry flavor but seriously low on the heat scale. The mild is perfectly edible for a 5 year old, if your child would like curry.
What is inside the box looks similar to chocolate. I’m told my grandmother ate a piece when she first saw this opened, believing it to be chocolate, but I have no idea how someone does that when the smell of each chunk would become very obvious, very quickly.
This S&B curry is readily available at all Korean markets, but is also commonly available in American supermarkets, usually in the Asian food section. If not, then you can easily order it as an add-on item via Amazon as I’ve linked above.
This is what the inside looks like, and you’ll break each chunk apart to toss into the boiling soup.
Note that the photos are of the small, 3.5 oz sauce mix bar whereas this recipe uses the large 8.4 oz. size curry sauce mix.[/wc_box]
Right when we’re about to add the curry, heat up a frypan and begin your sunny-side up eggs. Cooking sunny side up eggs requires very little work on your end past cracking in the eggs and seasoning, so they’ll cook on the side while you finish up the curry.
Now it’s time to break up the curry bar and add to the boiling water. From this point on, you have to remain next to the pot because (1) it’ll start to bubble and (2) because the soup will thicken, it can easily burn and stick to the bottom of the pot.
If you have it in your cabinet–then now is a fantastic time to add fresh S&B curry powder which intensifies the curry taste. It’s perfectly fine without it, but with the powder, the curry has a good kick and excellent aromas. This is a spice you simply need to have in your pantry at all times–it’s good for a huge number of things including soups, stir-fries and salads. I’ll be sure to do a post on a later date regarding how to make fresh curry at home using this curry powder.
Now back to the curry sauce…
Break in all of the pieces and begin slowly stirring to get each piece wet. As they get moistened and heated, the bars will begin to melt into the soup. During this process, I begin to turn down the heat to medium to reduce splatter.
You’ll be able to tell when your eggs are done. Usually, for me, it’s about when all the curry bars are broken in and mixed into the sauce. When the eggs are near finished, remove from the heat and put aside.
Once the bars have completely melted into the pot, I toss in the Serrano peppers, which will instantly up the ante, so to speak. They’re at their spiciest when only slightly cooked, so it’s one of the last thing I put in. Continue stirring and cook on medium to low heat, depending on how much splatter you are experiencing.
In the final minute, toss in the peas you have strained. Because they should be completely defrosted by now and at about room temperature, mixing them in softly for about 1-2 minutes should heat them up sufficiently. This way, they don’t lose their bright green color and add to the presentation while also adding great flavor and a dose of sweetness to each bite. If you use corn, I’d also add the corn at about this time.
(This is about the time the eggs are finished — remember!)
After 1-2 minutes of stirring in, remove from the heat and let the pot sit while you prepare the dish.
I put about a cup of cooked rice onto a plate or large bowl and with a spoon, I’ll make a hole in the middle of the rice. It looks full on the side but the middle portion is hollower to use it to fill the sauce. If you don’t do this, most of the sauce will flow sideways off the mound of rice.
Take a ladle and pour the curry on top!
Finally, take one of the eggs, carefully place it on top and there ya go — Japanese curry is served, always with a spoon.
To eat it, you mix it in. If your curry turned out too dense, here’s a tip from my Dad: toss in a raw egg yolk and mix it in. If your curry turned out too watery — well, so long as the seasoning is correct, it’ll be soupy but the taste will be just as divine.
This is one of Mr. K’s favorite dishes; perhaps it’s the Japanese blood in him that makes him love this dish so much. My entire family actually loves curry in general. In fact, curry rice is one of Korea’s most popular dishes and when in Japan, it’s one of the first dishes I recommend as the fresh curry in Japan is simply spectacular. While Indian curry is awesome and one of the dishes I make most often at home, Japanese curry holds its own quite nicely. While the base flavors are the same, they are quite distinctly different.
As always, leave a comment if you’ve tried this recipe or if you have a variation that you think is better. Or, if you have any questions, holler below!
- 1 Ribeye Steak (0.75 lbs)
- 2-3 Strip of Country Style Pork Ribs (0.75 lbs)
- 1 Yellow Onion
- 10-12 Garlic cloves
- 2-3 Carrots
- 2 Large potatoes
- 2 T Vegetable or Canola Oil
- 6-8 C of water
- 1.5 T S & B Curry Powder (optional)
- 1 8.4 ounce package of Hot or Extra Hot Curry Sauce Mix
- 1 C frozen or fresh peas, thawed
- 1 C of white sticky rice -- per serving
- Make rice, put aside.
- Chop meat into 1-2 cm size pieces -- both pork and beef.
- Slice/cube onions, potatoes and carrots.
- Put frozen peas into room temperature water to thaw, drain and put aside until room temperature.
- Heat 6-8 quart stockpot until hot, add 2 T of vegetable oil.
- Fry and brown all the garlic and onions.
- Remove the garlic and onions, put aside.
- With existing oil in pan, brown all the meat until fully cooked.
- Add back onions and garlic.
- Add sliced carrots and fry until heated.
- Pour in 6 C of water, reserving 2 C and adding as needed until entire mixture is covered in pot + 1cm more water.
- Bring to a rolling boil and continue on high heat for 8-10 minutes until carrots are cooked.
- Add potatoes and bring back to boil; boil for an additional 5-8 minutes until potatoes are done.
- Lower heat.
- Immediately add entire package of curry sauce mix bars, broken up into pieces.
- Add 1.5 T of Curry Powder (optional)
- Add 3-5 sliced Serrano Peppers (optional -- only add if more heat desired)
- Stir until thoroughly mixed and all curry bars are incorporated -- at least 5 minutes
- Toss in drained peas and stir in until heated through on low heat.
- Turn off heat and put aside.
- Scoop and lay out 1 C of rice per plate and create a hole in the middle with the spoon.
- Ladle 1-2 ladles of curry on top of rice.
- Top with sunny-side up egg and serve immediately.
Tip: curry will very quickly solidify after it’s been taken off the heat. Let it. But as soon as it does, you can split the leftovers into 1 cup portions and bag them into freezer ziploc bags to freeze immediately, or store the whole thing in the refrigerator for up to two days. It really spoils fast–and while I’ve never looked into what in curry makes it go so bad so quickly–just trust me, it does. So put it in the fridge to finish off within a day or two. When reheating, simple take the portion you need, put in approximately 1/2 cup of water per serving and reheat over the stove. Microwaving it will NOT make it liquid again–you’ll simply have hot but still solid curry. Make sure to mix in water, and as you stir and break the curry back down, if it tastes too bland because of the water, add a little salt and it’s as good as new![/wc_box]