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Japanese Curry from Scratch (you're not going to like it though...)

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So I went to the Japanese book store and found a decent cookbook for Yoshoku cuisine (Japanese western style cuisine). While Yoshoku cuisine may be commonly perceived by many as a style of cooking western foods for Japanese tastes, I think it goes far beyond that as it requires so much rigorous attention to details and a focus on French technique. This recipe is adapted from a famous Tokyo restaurant. Also, please note that this recipe will take you several days to make properly. Yes, I said days. I hope this doesn't discourage those of you who are interested.

Ingredients: (sorry you'll have to do your own conversions)
ROUX
-25g Curry powder each S&B and C&B brands (I'm sure you can play with the curry spices to come up with your own mixture)
-100cc vegetable oil
-100g flour

NON-ROUX
-200g finely chopped onions
-vegetable oil for sauteeing
-1 tablespoon grated ginger
-1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
-1 apple (quartered)
-1 banana (quartered)
-1 tomato (seeded)
-1 tablespoon mango chutney
-1 tablespoon ketchup
-300cc brown veal stock (look up any French cookbook for this)
-1500 cc beef boullion (by this I believe they mean a standard dark beef stock, not the cube of beef bouillon we're accustomed to thinking about here)
-1 tablespoon ground cumin (preferably freshly roasted cumin seeds, and ground)
-rock salt (I think regular salt is fine)
-black pepper
-500g beef (sirloin) thinly sliced

1. Make the roux.
-Saute the flour with the vegetable oil over a medium heat. (I would prefer to use some butter at this point, though this recipe only calls for oil). Saute and mix well with a wooden spoon until the flour and oil are well incorporated.
-Add the curry powder mix and work into the roux until well incorporated.
-In a 120-130 C oven, roast the roux for about 2 hours. (This seems to be an important step to bring out the flavors of the spices.)
-After roasting the roux, cool it and work the mixture with a flat headed wooden spoon (or somesuch utensil) to smooth it out.
-Set aside

2. Prepare the other ingredients
-Saute the onions in oil until browned and well caramelized. Set aside.
-Saute the ginger, garlic until fragrant. Add the onion mixture.
-Add enough beef stock to the ginger/garlic/onion mixture to make a thin paste
-In a blender, add the apple, banana, tomato, mango chutney, ketchup, and the ginger/garlic/onion paste, and blend until smooth

3. Blend the roux
-Add the pureed mixture to the roux over medium heat. Keep mixing.
-Add the veal stock and stir into the roux mixture.
-As you keep stirring the curry sauce, add hot beef stock gradually until you get to a suitable thick sauce
-Simmer for at least an hour, making sure to keep mixing it so the bottom doesn't burn
-Add the cumin, mix, and simmer for another hour.

4. Allow the sauce to "mature"
-The instructions states to let the curry sauce rest for at least 4 days (yes, 4 days) to mature. I'm not sure if this means in the fridge or at room temperature. In my experience, it is left at a cool room temperature, and at some point each day, brought to a simmer for a little bit and allowed to cool down to room temperature again. Yes, four days of this. Perhaps this step is a bit obsessive, but some experts say it's crucial.

5. Prepare the beef and finish
-Saute the beef, salt and pepper, and some curry powder to taste
-When the beef is cooked to about medium, add it to the curry sauce.

6. Eat the damn thing. Over hot rice.

OK, so there it is. Japanese curry from scratch made by an overly obsessive Yoshoku chef. Remember, also that making a proper fond de veau (veal stock) can take 3 days to make, not to mention a proper beef stock. I'll probably use some shortcuts, like a store-bought demi glace sauce. So maybe you'll gain an appreciation of what went into making that plate of Japanese curry next time you eat at a fancy Yoshoku restaurant in Japan (I haven't found one in the US, so no need to ponder that here).

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  1. Interesting.

    As you said, this is an incredibly labour-intensive recipe, but no doubt delicious. But it always makes me wonder - is the enjoyment I'd get out of this fifty times more than the enjoyment I get out of my quick and easy cilantro yoghurt chicken curry recipe? Whilst it is difficult to measure something so ephemeral, I suspect not. Whilst I do occasionally make things that warrant a ridiculous amount of time and effort (oeufs a la neige come to mind), these never become mainstays of my kitchen.

    For me, recipes like this make great eye candy, but this is the sort of thing I would go to a Japanese restaurant for, because chances are even after following this recipe to a T, a Japanese chef would, with his immense experience, make this much better than me.

    But thanks for the eye candy! Sonds delicious...

    2 Replies
    1. re: kate

      Whilst I often get better thai food at restaurants that I can ever prepare myself, I will never stop trying to prepare excruciating thai recipes in my own kitchen. The difference is that I love to cook.

      You may be confused in that this recipe takes a long time to mature - that doesn't mean that it is labor intensive. My gumbo recipe is similarly time intensive. And, in fact, labor intensive as well. So what?

      1. re: rudeboy

        Eric, curious what the name of the cookbook series is. Everyday for lunch I eat at a quiet space located directly across the street from one of the most famous Yoshoku restaurants in Japan, Taimeiken. It is located at Nihonbashi, just a minute from the station. I am amazed and fascinated at the number of people standing in line. Especially on the weekends. Have not been, but can`t imagine it is as good as the outrageous prices they charge.

    2. p
      Professor Salt

      I'm glad you posted this, since I've recently become obsessed with the incredibly delicious Japanese curry at a place in Costa Mesa, CA. They make theirs with the rich pork broth from their ramen soup.

      Interesting that this recipe calls for browning the roux in an oven, since most Japanese homes don't have ovens. Eric, is this a book for professional chefs that most home cooks aren't ever going to cook out of?

      4 Replies
      1. re: Professor Salt

        This Yoshoku book is based on a series called "Professional techniques" and the main title is called something like "How to become a famous Yoshoku Chef", with recipes from some of the more famous Yoshoku restaurants in Japan. By the way, there's also a book dedicated just to curry in this series. So, perhaps it's not for the novice home cook, but I wouldn't follow this recipe to the letter, as I don't with recipes from any cookbooks. IMO, recipes are for inspiration, but execution is up to individual judgment. I'll applaud anyone who will go through the process illustrated in my original post. It's unlikely that I'll go through all that, but at least I now know what the proper processes are, and what shortcuts I can and shouldn't take to make a reasonable facsimile of a serious japanese curry. Funny thing is that I never really knew about that "maturation" step, but after reading that I remembered how the chef at a Japanese restaurant where I once worked, used to make curry for staff meals, and I would find a vat of curry sitting in some odd corner from time to time. That was some of the very best curry I've had, and I'm beginning to understand how those chefs who are serious about their curry go about making it, and don't take shortcuts in their approach.

        I suppose I should reiterate again that I tend not to compare this style of curry to other southeast asian curry. It's quite a different animal and has more in common with etouffe or beouf bourgignon than to thai or indian style curry.

        1. re: Professor Salt

          I just reread your post and wanted to make a correction. The recipe doesn't call for browning the roux in the oven. It says to make a roux with oil and flour, and add the curry spices, then *roast* the roux mixture (not browning) in an oven. A toaster oven would work just as well for this procedure, which are fairly common in Japanese kitchens. I think one way to circumvent this step is to use your own spice mix from seeds, dry roast/toast them, and grind it before you add it to the roux. I believe because they are using a commercial pre-ground product for the curry spice, the roasting step is a way to bring out the flavors and aroma.

            1. re: eezerik

              This post goes down in the history of Chowhound as one of its finest - any rate thanks for ressurecting it.

              I'd be willing to bet the place professor salt refers to -is in the Mitsuwa food court.

          1. This is a fascinating post, thank you, Eric. In past threads about curry mixes vs. made-from-scratch, the usual consensus has been that everyo home cook in Japan (and maybe a large portion of the restaurants there and here as well) uses the mixes, and I guess we can see why. At the end of the day, I'd be very interested in hearing from anyone who undertakes this project (or any other scratch Japanese curries) about the end results, and the extent to which taking all this time does (and doesn't) produce an improved result. I'd be interested in whether there may be some sort of "moderate" approach to this--using some short cuts but not others to get to an end product that has a fresher taste of spices than something like House brand, but with a maximally efficient expenditure of personal effort vs. letting the factory do the grunt work.

            1. That is a lot of work. I sure it was worth it. But just how much better than a mix was it? Is it worth the work for a home cook that will not use curry that much?

              Thank you for the post if was very interesting.

              1. I was perusing an archive of a Japanese web-magazine and I found this recipe for Japanese curry. It's much less obsessive as the one I posted originally, and with helpful photos. As you can see, there are probably hundreds of variations on Japanese curry recipes. I'm learning as I read up more on it. On the linked recipe page, if you hit the "back" button at the bottom of the page, you'll find an article about Japanese curry.

                Link: http://web-japan.org/nipponia/nipponi...

                4 Replies
                1. re: Eric Eto

                  Hi Eric,

                  This recipe looks a lot saner than the first one you wrote about. That one was enough to send me back to the hydrogenated, fat-filled, break-apart bars.

                  I noticed the recipe calls for both garam masala and curry powder - I wonder what a Japanese home cook would understand this to be, and if it differs from the curry powder I would expect to find in the spice section of a typical American supermarket, or in an Asian supermarket here in NYC. Do you know? I sometimes look for curry powder in places like Pacific or HK supermarkets, hoping to find something I can use to do an end run around the fat bars, but I've never seen something that was simply labeled "curry powder." Can anyone clue me in?

                  1. re: Helen F

                    The most popular Japanese brand of curry powder is S&B, which is in a bright yellow and red tin. I'm pretty certain I've seen it at Chinese markets (like Pacific or HK), but I can't remember if I've seen it in the Japanese food aisle or with the other spices.

                    Note that this recipe is strikingly different from most Japanese curries in that it doesn't start with a roux base. It seems like this chef is making a curry more similar to Indian curry. I would prefer to start with a roux and use beef and beef or veal stock, to achieve a darker, richer, and meatier sauce.

                    1. re: Eric Eto

                      Bright yellow and red -- how the heck did I miss it?

                      I was kind of surprised to see yogurt in the recipe. Your surmise that it's an Indian-inspired curry interpretation makes sense. Meanwhile, my head is spinning from trying to imagine how this recipe would result in anything like what you get from cubes. And it sounds too darn healthy, especially when compared to the older (i.e., lardy & suety) version of the cubes! But it does look tasty. I'll have to give it a try.

                      Thanks for reporting on this quest.

                      Helen

                  2. re: Eric Eto

                    I think the article that precedes the curry is a little confusing, but if you read it all the way to the very end, it starts to talk about the growing popularity of thai and indian style curries. It then segues into the recipe by talking about this chef and how he learned to make curry from his indian son-in-law. It kind of makes it sound like this isn't the "traditional" japanes style (though it seems like it has been adapted to suit the japanese taste, so to speak)