Now more than ever, we're turning to our kitchens as a substitute for travel, tapping into the power of flavor to transport us elsewhere. Today, our teleportation destination of choice is Asia courtesy of a hearty, comforting Japanese curry that's as easy as it is flavorful.
Curry is typically eaten at home in Japan, with many home cooks touting their own special ingredient—or kakushiaji, which literally means "hidden taste." Some of the most common include chocolate, tonkatsu sauce, apple, banana, or honey. It's not uncommon, in fact, to hear someone joking that his/her curry is "better than Mrs. XYZ's next door."
If you're thinking, isn't curry an Indian dish?, you'd be right. Originally from India, curry became popular in the UK in the 18th century and was subsequently introduced to Japan by the British as Western culture spread throughout the 19th century. At first a speciality—the first known curry recipes in Japan included ingredients such as frog and leek—the dish became democratized throughout the 20th century with the development of cheap curry powders and mixes as well as the shift towards growing the key ingredients (potatoes, carrots, and onions) at scale domestically.
Today, traditional Japanese curry comes together with a handful of simple ingredients you most likely have lying around your fridge and pantry, with certain vegetable and meat variations dictated by season (summertime brings with it a whole host of peak-season produce) and region (in the northern Japanese region of Hokkaido, octopus and squid are the proteins of choice).
Indeed the beauty of curry is that it's endlessly customizable, so while the recipe below calls for beef, chicken would work just as well—or no meat at all, for that matter. Want to doctor it up with more veggies? Toss in zucchini and/or eggplant. Tired of rice? Toast up a slice of bread instead.
Whatever you decide, we recommend making a large batch so you can enjoy it over several days.
Oh—and a note on spice. Most major brands have three main spice levels for their curry pastes: mild, medium spicy, and spicy. We're on team medium spice, but we know this can be a contentious topic amongst friends and families who find themselves whipping up multiple batches to appease everyone!
Japanese Beef Curry With Rice
- 1 Pound Beef
- 4 - 5 Carrots
- 2 Large Potatoes
- 3 Onions
- 1 Tablespoon Minced Garlic
- 1/2 Tablespoon Minced Ginger
- 1 Cup Applesauce
- 6 Cups Water
- 1 Box S&B Golden Curry Sauce (or equivalent Japanese curry)
- 2 Squares Dark Chocolate
- Optional, for serving: Broccoli (~15 florets), Tomatoes, and Boiled Eggs (1 per person)
- Cut beef, carrots, and potatoes into bite-size cubes, and onions into wedges. Submerge cut potatoes in cold water (to remove excess starch and prevent them from oxidizing) and set aside.
- Season meat as desired (we recommend just black pepper as the curry itself contains salt).
- Heat a large pot over medium heat and add a swirl of olive oil (enough to lightly coat the bottom).
- Add onions and cook, stirring frequently, until translucent.
- Add garlic, ginger, and beef, stirring until meat starts to change color and cook through.
- Add carrots and applesauce. Cook, stirring, for another 5 minutes.
- Add potatoes and cook, stirring, until tender, 5-10 minutes.
- Add water, bring to a boil, and reduce heat to let it simmer for 15 minutes, removing fat as necessary as it rises to the surface.
- Dissolve curry paste by mixing it with a small amount of hot water in a separate cup, then add it, along with the chocolate, to the pan, mixing thoroughly until well combined.
- If you're eating it right away: Serve alongside diced tomatoes, steamed broccoli, a hard or soft-boiled egg, and rice.
If you're letting it sit: Turn off the heat, cover tightly with the lid, and let sit (at least one hour, but ideally overnight) to allow the flavors to concentrate. Heat up before serving, adding water if necessary, and plate alongside diced tomatoes, steamed broccoli, boiled eggs, and rice.
Store leftover curry in the fridge for up to 3 days or the freezer for 3-4 months.
To learn more about the nuances of Japanese cuisine, hear from acclaimed food writer Robbie Swinnerton who has been living in Tokyo for close to 40 years.