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Japanese curry- How to...up a notch?

  • s

We've been eating Japanese curry for years now. Usually just the store bought rue like House or whatever. Some are better than others, but none of them are great. I realize there's probably nothing like making it all from scratch, but does anyone have any suggestions on how we can take our curry up a notch? Not looking to make it spicier. Just some techniques or ingredients that can give a deeper and richer taste. My wife picked up a tip of cooking it with some apple, which helps round out the taste.

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  1. Yes, adding pureed apple helps. Pureed carrots or ketchup can kick things up. Garlic is also good. A favorite addition with most folks I know is plain yogurt. It should help give you the depth/richnes you're looking for. Don't be afraid to experiment!

    4 Replies
    1. re: weebie

      I agree with garlic. also some like to put in cream for depth. grating the onions is another option... also it might be a little time consuming but if you ude chicken, you can use the drumsticks and saute that first, take the meat off set aside, and use the bones for the soup stock and use your usual rue..make sure to strain the bones! enjoy

      1. re: yum

        Try adding coconut milk instead of water.

        1. re: Miss Needle

          it wouldn't be japanese then if you add the coconut. plus I don't think it would go well with the rue.

          1. re: delishus

            It is not Japanese, but I don't believe in hard and fast rules for cooking. It actually goes very well with the roux, and lends an incredible richness and sweetness.

    2. I find that by cutting your veggies into small 1/4 inch pieces and also food process your onions will imporve the taste.

      If you want to try new ways of using curry you can add cooked hard boil eggs, clams, Chinese roast pork, sweet potatoes, onion rings and fries.

      2 Replies
      1. re: theSauce

        I forgot the mentioned add a-1 sauce.

        1. re: theSauce

          I second the suggestion for sweet potatoes. It adds a nice softness to the curry with the slight sweetness. But when I do it, I mix sweet potatoes with regular potatoes just so that it doesn't become sweet potato curry.

        2. Thanks for the tips everyone! There's some good ones and I'm looking forward to the next time we make it.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Silverjay

            One of the first things that I would do is go after the rice. If you don't, try making it with stock instead of water. I use niko niko "smiley face" rice made with chicken stock.

            Although it's not Japanese, I like to add a dash of "The Spice Hunter" Tandori Blend to my rice pot, for great nose and color. Go easy.

            I started using the S&B "Hot" packaged bricks of curry sauce about 25 years ago. I believe this is type of thing you are using. I have found I like to use about a quarter less water than called for on the package.

            I think that some sauteed shiitake mushroom might be a nice addition to your end. I also like some fresh or lightly steamed snow peas as a garnish. This too should add contrast, texture, and color to your curry.

            I have never strived for an ethnic correct curry. I am more of a kitchen sink / what's leftover / what's fresh / approach. I regularly saute sweet onions, colorful peppers, and fresh shrooms as a starter for many dishes including curry. My curries often will have boiled potato, raisins, chunks of apple, and some form of meat.

            The lazy susan curries of my youth included many things to sprinkle on top of your curry. This may lead to some additional ideas for your curry. Roast some nuts, cut some green onions on the bias, toast some coconut, and sprinkle them on top. Again, this may not be Japanese, but I would be from the try the coconut milk school.


          2. One trick that most great yoshoku-ya's use to make curry is first to start with a lot of caramelized onion. I think some of the scratch recipes I've read have called for 20-30 onions for a full batch. But I think using 2-3 for using one full brick of roux would be good. But caramelizing means fully soft, dark brown onion. It takes a lot of time and stirring to get it to that stage, and you might not want to bother with it. Another yoshoku-ya trick is to brown whatever meat you're using, and then deglaze with red wine, a good couple cups, and reduce by at least a half or more. You can either throw in the stock on top of that, or reserve the wine reduction and add it toward the end, into the thickened stew. You can also add pureed fruit (banana, apple, mango) to sweeten it, or add some honey. I've also seen grated carrots in some recipes.

            3 Replies
            1. re: Eric Eto

              My Japanese ex-wife taught me the carmelized onion trick, it's the single biggest improvement that I won't skip no matter how tight on time I get. Chop up a large onion as finely as you can, place in olive or peanut oil over very low heat and stir until browned, then continue with the package directions. I add a hot curry powder about halfway through the browning and some sliced garlic towards the end.

              Browning your meat separately makes a big difference also, add curry powder during the browning to layer in more flavor and heat. I add mushrooms, green/red peppers, pearl onions to brown up also, and use water to deglaze.

              1. re: Larry

                agreed, you def want to atleast brown the meat seperetely first. for sure. the brown caramelized crust that forms on the meat will most def bring a whole nother layer of flavor. course, doing the same with onions first is also great.

                1. re: ben61820

                  i always saute the veggies (potatoes, onions, carrots, celery, and fresh jalepenos) first in some vegetable oil and garlic for about 5 - 10 minutes and set aside. then i saute beef in sesame oil and garlic. when it just starts to brown, i add some soy sauce. then the veggies go back in and get stir-fried for another 5-10 min, where they soak in some of the beef/soy sauce flavor.

            2. I add plain yogurt along with grated Granny Smith apple.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Tabetai yo

                I second the yogurt and apple combo-- some commercial brands even specially advertise this combo. (Ad the apple near the beginning so it completely dissolves, add a small bit of yogurt at the end after you take it off the heat) Recently more brands have curries marked as vegetarian, without the lard--for some reason, counterintuitively, they often seem to have better taste. (I think it's because they emphasize things like the yogurt and apple)

                I personally focus more on making the meal interesting by choosing different toppings. (Homemade croquette or pickles, some tenpura, egg, hamburg steak, etc.) Things that are fried, well browned, etc., are key :)

              2. Chopped, cocktail peanuts.

                1. add kamaboko, eat with gakkdugi and maybe you could add cheese to it. sounds gross, but cheese is an ingredient in a lot of curries. I have noticed gouda as an ingredient before and maybe it would be good melted in the sauce?

                  actually that sounds kind of gross (:

                  1. Last night's Dotch cooking show's winning dish was a chinese-inspired curry donburi. The mabo-style curry (included tofu) was served along with golden pork katsu and slivers of fried gobo as a topping. Spices included cumin, cayenne, curry and sichuan peppercorn.

                    Key-prolonged carmelization of the onions.

                    1. I like to put in some kabocha pumpkin squash as it adds a nice sweetness to the curry.

                      Also, when I get tired of curry and rice and I have a bit of leftover curry, I dilute it with some chicken stock to a soup and then put it over a bowl of cooked udon noodles.

                      1. Kabocha--yes! Yummy.
                        My girls love the sweet kabocha. I sneak vegetables into curry by layering cooked spinach on the rice and then pouring the curry sauce over it--the kids don't even know!

                        1. I had curry for dinner last night and I had no meat in the house so I added:

                          thai eggplants (i love those little seeds)
                          carrots and celery

                          very delicious

                          1. I have heard poppy seeds are sometimes used as a secret ingredient. hmmm....

                            1. I like a touch of richness/body and texture to my curry, so this is what I do...

                              I start off by searing the meat in a skillet along with a small amount of traditionally rendered lard. To this I add a whole beef tendon, thinly sliced, for texture. The tendon requires quite a bit of time to soften up, so I get it on the heat as early as possible and for as long as possible. When the meat is nicely seared I then transfer the meat (with tongs to leave behind the fats for the next step) to the stockpot along with the dissolved roux. Back in the skillet I then sautee plenty of onions along with some carrots and fingerling potatoes, then transfer this all to the stockpot.

                              What's left in the skillet I then deglaze with a dash of my own homemade red wine vinegar and drip that into the stockpot with the rest of the ingredients.

                              To the roux I then add cream for some mouthfeel and body, and then boost the heat a bit by adding in more curry in the form of the "flaked curry" preparations. (While adding body, the cream has a tendency to take some of the edge off the heat, so adding something to boost the heat a bit works out just fine...) For a more direct and pronounced approach S&B actually sells something called "kakushi aji karasa jizai", which means to adjust the heat with hidden flavors. It's a small package of perhaps a dozen tiny foil tubes filled with spices that you just add to your curry. I almost never come across this latter product. I believe I got mine at the Marukai in Costa Mesa.

                              For more texture I'll add at the table some fukujintsuke, a delicious and common accompaniment to curry rice. There's one that I believe is called Tokyo Fukujintsuke that I particularly like. It comes in a tuna can-like tin with an old-fashioned-looking green and gold imprint on a burnt yellow background. (I don't have the can around to check since I always transfer it to a small sealed container after opening to keep in the fridge...)

                              The resulting curry has sufficient heat to be interesting and a great mouthfeel full of richness and body; the toothsome give of the tendon combined with the pleasant crunch of the fukujintsuke complements the dish not only with a whole textural layer, but yes, even of sound!

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: cgfan


                                Wow - next time you make curry let me know.
                                Its not curry without the fukujin

                                1. re: kare_raisu

                                  Cool, that's the one! It's a great and classic product...

                                  1. re: kare_raisu

                                    The last time I was in the local Japanese market, I bought a few cans of fukujinzuke (two each of different brands, IIRC). The woman at the cash register looked at the pile of cans and said, "Wow...having lots of curry tonight?"

                                    1. re: ricepad

                                      Ricepad, that's a great annectdote. But it's so true... For me curry=fukujintsuke, and fukujintsuke=curry!

                                2. with the yogurt add finely pureed unsalted cashews...just enough to get the thickness just right

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: nyfoodjoe

                                    uhh dunno if your a veggie only person but everyone seems to love my meat curry...

                                    Need some equipment for this though or ALOT of time.

                                    a)mince up your onions(alot of people use food processor's but I prefer to use a knife to chop em up into 1-2 mm pieces. reason:you can expect each piece of the onion to be the same size so the heat goes through equally on each piece. )

                                    b)DON"T BURN this is "really" important. A picky person can tell the difference between burned onions in a curry. If you have an onion hater eating make sure you don't burn them... If you don't burn them they won't even know they're in there because the onions will melt and they won't be able to see them or pick them out.

                                    c)toss onions into a pan(I use a nonstick frying pan but if you need to oil a pan use olive oil and a paper towel to lessen the amt of oil in the pan). pinch salt(TINY amt) to help them become clear quicker. Use only low heat and stir well to keep them from burning. Once done toss into the pressure cooker.

                                    d)While the onions are cooking prep the stew meat and tail meat.
                                    No do NOT USE any other meat(shank is ok but I think tail is best). It must be labeled stew meat and tail meat or else it'll become tough and ugly. Be wary at supermarkets though sometimes their stew meat and tail meat is really old/bad because no one wants to buy them.

                                    e)Toss cow fat into a hot frying pan(I don't use non stick for this because I tend to abuse my pan...). You should see slight vapors. Let the cow fat sink into the frying pan(DON"T USE VEGETABLE OIL since the smell gets onto the meat then into the curry.)
                                    Toss the stew meat into the pan.(big bite size pieces, it'll shrink, don't bother trying to remove the meat from the tail toss the whole thing in)
                                    The temp should be high enough that as soon as you toss in the meat and mix there should be slight burns. Make sure no major raw side is showing. Don't need to cook the inside, just the outside for this stage. Once that's done place the pan on a water soaked towel to immediately lower the temperature. Toss the meat into the pressure cooker(remove the cow fat) with the onions. In the pan toss some cheap red wine(~1 cup?) in and swirl it a bit. Toss the wine into the cooker too.

                                    f)roughly subtract the amt of wine from the water necessary to put into the cooker according to whatever curry rue you're using. Add the water in.

                                    Now here's where you can do a couple things....
                                    use rue...
                                    I like to use hot and mild hot rue together.
                                    or you can use curry powder(curry powder = coriander tumeric cumin combo).

                                    additional seasonsings... pair and match to your liking.

                                    cumin<-used alot in indian dishes. powder's fine but if you're using the seed need to heat them in oil.
                                    coriander/cilantro->use the seed portion only
                                    tumeric->this gives the yellow color to curry. Similar to ginger in function. (root)
                                    dried chili pepper/chili powder->gives the 'hotness'
                                    garam masala->this is actually like curry powder. It's a combo of spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, cardanum, and varies from maker to maker.
                                    garlic powder->just to give it an extra punch
                                    saute garlic slices->personally I think garlic powder serves the same trick
                                    put an apple on a food processor and squeeze the juice in with a gauze->helps sweeten
                                    honey->sweetens even further(use sparingly imo)
                                    ginger juice->to lessen the meaty smell
                                    bay leaf->it'll help lessen the meaty smell that some people dislike
                                    coconut milk->pairs rather well with controlling the chili powder hot
                                    dijon mustard(please don't use other mustards)->oi even more hot
                                    pepper/salt->I prefer to skip the salt and only add pepper even then use sparingly since it can kill the other seasonings. Ever had salty curry? it's disgusting.
                                    tomato->boiled whole tomato(the ones from the cans work fine just crush it)
                                    yogurt->sub for coconut milk
                                    chocolate-yeah surprisingly enough alot of people use this as the sweetener
                                    instant coffee-to make it mild. another sweetener
                                    (personally I don't like the chocolate and instant coffee trick but it does work)

                                    There's much much more you can use like oregano, basil, sage, thyme, orange peels, etc. But the basics if you want to make from total scratch is cumin, coriander tumeric, and chili powder. However if you try to use that only to make a curry it becomes rather bland. Hence the addition of nutmeg clove cinnamon garlic powder bayleaf tomato apple, etc as you see fit.
                                    For amts... I usually just do it by what I think is best, and whatever spices I have available, plus who's eating it(hot mild spicey tangy, or whether I'm eating it with bread or rice).... Never actually measured what I put in but generally I tend to use around 30-50g of the main spices and the rest around 5-10g or just a pinch.

                                    I'm too lazy to bother making from scratch these days so I usually use curry powder or 2 rue trick, apple, tomato, and bay leaf and toss in chili powder when I need it to be hot, and use chicken or beef bouillions(never whole maybe 1/4 or 1/3 a piece) when I can't be bothered to make the soup stock myself.

                                    g)anyways once the spice course is decided you know how much water needs to be added. Do that. Beginners should stick to rue directions... then go to curry powder-> then to your own spice mix.

                                    h)cover the pressure cooker and boil for about 20 minutes. take 5-10 minutes to remove the steam before opening after done. check if the meat is soft. It should be. It should be so soft that when taking a chop stick it slices right through. check the tail bone too. The meat should fall right off of the bone. (can remove the bone at this point)

                                    i)ok here's the pain in the neck part. You should see a slight film of oil floating on the top of the pot. if you don't see it just let it sit for 15mins. it'll float up there. Usually it sticks to the side of the pot and it's little round bubbles of fat floating around in your pot. Remove this.(can use a spoon or whatever just get it out. It contains the icky substance of your meat(aku) which makes the curry or stew smelly, if you leave it in. Plus it's unhealthy.)

                                    j)in the meantime cut carrots and potatoes(you can skip them if you don't like them too.)
                                    into big pieces and again using the frying pan saute them. Don't burn but you want to try to cook the outside of the veggie. (not the inside, you'll know because the outside will start to look paler compared to the inside)

                                    k)toss the carrot and potatoes into the pressure cooker(note: purpose of cooking the outside is to make them less powdery and harder to melt.

                                    l)pressure cook for another 3minutes. Remove pressure and leave it like this for 2-3hrs. Can leave overnight if you want(in fact I prefer to just leave it like this overnight)

                                    m)open the pot. Toss in the rue(rule Never put it on pressure cook after tossing the rue in). Let it cook/simmer a bit till the rue melts mix well(toss in apple juice etc now).
                                    If you want to add color toss "cooked" asparagus/beans/corn into the pot.

                                    if you don't have left over red wine, whiskey's fine too. The purpose is just to make the meat tender and flavorful. Make sure if you use frozen meat that it's been defrosted. Careful with the meat. If you boil it too much it turns into rubber without the juices. NEVER CUT the meat after you have heated it on the frying pan. This will cause all the juices to run out of the meat you have cut. It's best when the colagen has melted.

                                    1. re: am0401

                                      extra: my korean roommate likes to use kimchi and soy sauce in her curry. Sometimes she adds toubanjan or cochijan or my japanese red miso which... sometimes turns out to be good and othertimes turns into a disaster... no clue what the hell she does to it. It's fun to experiment though.

                                      any old curry = curry bread for us. I love home made curry bread. crisp on the outside curry juices in the inside.

                                  2. I agree with coconut milk. But if you can find cream of coconut (comes in a small slab)... it's actually mashed up coconut in a slab. You can cut out a piece and mix it with boiling water and add it to the curry to build up the consistency. I have always done that with my Japanese curry. Otherwise, strained yogurt (if it's not too much work) would do just fine.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Homecookwil

                                      instead of adding just water I add probably 50% milk so it becomes more creamier and adds to the umami deliciousness.

                                    2. You'll rue the day you misspelled roux.

                                      Eat a bottle of kimchee with it! Or buy some Indian mixed pickles! I know that's the wrong curry - but the whole idea is to vary the tsukemono/panchan/chutney. We have it so often (it is THE comfort food for us), that fukujinzuke, rakyo and beni shoga get old real fast. Also, we go between lamb and beef, and also make both chicken and pork katsu for katsu kare. I should buy stock in S&B.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: applehome

                                        hear, hear

                                        One of the local japanese makets has a cute cubbyhole tsukemono shop. Someone could do a tasting of all the varieties paired with kare. my favorite so far has to be the spicy baby eggplant pickled in mustard (Karashizuke).

                                      2. i recently tried making it from a recipe in saveur magazine (jan. issue, i think. the "100" issue). i thought it fell a little thin, flavor wise. the next day it tasted better (i love food that improves overnight), but i added a small handful of grated parmesan and a small touch of honey. it was undersalted so i added a little soy sauce. much much better.

                                        it also helped that i heaped the newly improved leftovers over freshly fried tonkatsu.

                                        1. Nobody has mentioned the addition of deglazing with sake, which is what I do, in addition to browning the onions like crazy.....

                                          1. Personally, I find Japanese curries like Glico to be hopelessly bland. Lime pickle works well to revive them.