I have a special curry recipe for you today: Japanese Curry. It’s thick and comforting, and its unique, rich blend of sweet and savory notes stems from a few secret ingredients.
“Curry” is a broad term for a stew-like mixture of spices, gravy-ish broth, and other meats and veggies.
It’s usually served over rice or with bread, like Homemade Naan.
You’ll find different curries all across Asia.
What Makes Japanese Curry Special
Japanese curry (or curry rice as it is also called) is different from other curries you’ve tried.
- Instead of dry spices (like Indian curry) or curry paste (like Thai curry), it’s made with curry roux, a blend of fat, flour, and spices all cooked together.
- It has a signature sweetness from a few distinctive additions—apple, onions, and honey.
- It’s ultra savory. Umami-rich ingredients like soy sauce and dashi (which I have a substitute for below) give it exceptional depth.
- It’s thick, like a rich gravy or stew (Thai curries by comparison are thinner).
The Curry Roux
In Japan, Japanese curry is so popular, you can purchase curry roux (the blend of fat, flour, and spices that forms the flavor base) as a curry sauce in a box.
- Most rouxs include a blend of Japanese curry powder (which itself is a blend of spices like turmeric, coriander, fennel, yuzu, and more), plus additional spices like cumin, cardamom, and cayenne.
- Each chef has his or her own favorite blend of spices for making Japanese curry roux (or her favorite brand of boxed curry sauce), so as with any home cooking recipe, you’ll find plenty of variation.
To make Japanese curry accessible for people who, like me, don’t have ready access to Japanese curry powder or boxed curry roux, this curry features an easy homemade curry roux made from flour, oil, and spices that can be found in a well-stocked spice cabinet or any grocery store.
(For another unique curry experience with everyday pantry spices, check out Jamaican Curry).
The Magic Ingredients
One of my favorite parts of Japanese cuisine is its masterful blend of sweet, savory, and tangy flavors.
Japanese curry is no exception.
While each Japanese curry recipe is unique, you can count on finding these flavor components represented.
- Sweet/Fruity. Carrots and onions (naturally sweet), honey, and a fruity element, such as finely shredded apples or even mashed banana.
- Savory/Umami. Soy sauce (easy to find) and dashi, which is an ingredient in most authentic Japanese curry recipes. Since it is harder to locate in the U.S., I used mushroom broth to create a similar intense umami factor.
- Tangy/Acid. Tomatoes; a finish of lemon juice is also popular. Some recipes call for ketchup, which adds another component of sweetness.
How to Make Easy Japanese Curry
I have tremendous respect for Japanese cuisine and culture (Japan is one of my favorite countries I have ever visited) and (as with this Chicken Katsu), I make no pretenses that this recipe is meant to be authentic.
Rather, I have done my best to recreate this very special and popular dish in a pared-down way so that those who aren’t lucky enough to travel to Japan (or to have access to a wide variety of Japanese ingredients) can experience it at home.
- Chicken. Flavor-packed chicken thighs are the ideal protein for this recipe. They’re more difficult to overcook than chicken breast, meaning they’ll stay tender and juicy during cooking.
- Ginger + Garlic. These are important flavor builders, so make sure you use the real thing. It’s worth the extra step! Also builds similar flavors in Miso Ramen.
- Carrots. Packed with fiber and vitamins, carrots are both a nutritious and delicious addition to this curry.
- Potatoes. Yukon gold potatoes become perfectly tender during cooking and add wonderful texture to the curry.
Cut the potatoes large so that they finish cooking in the same amount of time as the carrots, which are firmer.
- Apple. A delightfully sweet addition that complements the more salty and spicy elements. The apple melts into the broth, leaving you with a sweet, fruity note.
- Mushroom Broth. An umami bomb that gives this curry depth. It’s my swap for dashi, which can be difficult to find or make.
- Soy Sauce. Another umami all-star.
- Frozen Green Peas. A simple addition that helps sneak in an extra veggie.
- Spices. Thanks to a vast number of rich, bold spices, this curry does not lack flavor! Cumin, coriander, turmeric, cardamom, cinnamon, chili powder, and nutmeg add warmth and depth of flavor.
- Flour. A critical component of the roux that helps thicken the curry.
- Tomato Paste + Honey. These two ingredients are my simple swap for ketchup, which is commonly used in recipes like this. The combination adds the same tangy sweetness that ketchup would.
- Sear the chicken in oil with salt and pepper. Remove it to a plate. Sauté the onion with the garlic and ginger.
- Add the vegetables, grated apple, broth, soy sauce, and chicken. Bring to a boil, then let simmer. Stir the spices together in a bowl.
- Make the curry roux: heat oil in a saucepan, then stir in the flour.
- Add the spices.
- Remove the pot from the heat, and stir in the tomato paste and honey. Add the mixture to the curry.
- Stir the curry, then let it simmer and thicken. Add the peas. Serve and ENJOY!
- To Store. Refrigerate curry in an airtight storage container for up to 3 days.
- To Reheat. Rewarm leftovers in a Dutch oven on the stovetop over medium-low heat or in the microwave.
- To Freeze. Freeze curry in an airtight, freezer-safe storage container for up to 3 months. Let thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating.
Meal Prep Tip
Up to 1 day in advance, cut the chicken, onion, garlic, carrots, and potatoes. Refrigerate until you’re ready to finish the recipe.
Turn leftovers into a hearty meal by serving the curry over a bed of rice or noodles (soba, ramen, or udon noodles would all be tasty).
Recommended Tools to Make this Recipe
- Dutch Oven. My go-to kitchen tool for making soups, stews, and curries.
- Extra Large Cutting Board. Ideal for recipes that include lots of chopping (like this one).
- Measuring Spoons. These magnetic measuring spoons will stay neatly stored in your drawer.
Ready, set, (curry) roux!
Frequently Asked Questions
If you’d prefer to use ketchup in this recipe, you can swap it for the tomato paste and honey combo. Omit the tomato paste and add 1 tablespoon of ketchup and 1 tablespoon of honey.
Mushroom broth is typically made from mushrooms, spices, herbs, and aromatics. It’s savory and provides a wonderful depth of flavor. You can find it near the boxed chicken, beef, and vegetable broths at the grocery store.
Due to their rich flavor, juiciness, and ability to withstand longer cooking times, I think chicken thighs are the best choice for this recipe. I have not tested the recipe with chicken breasts, and I’m afraid they would end up overcooked. That said, if you don’t mind the chicken a little dry, proceed.
- Prepared brown rice for serving, see Instant Pot Brown Rice
- 2 tablespoons canola oil or grapeseed oil divided
- 1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs cut into bite-sized pieces
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt plus additional to taste
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 large yellow onion cut into 1-inch thick chunks
- 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
- 4 cloves garlic minced (about 4 teaspoons)
- 4 medium carrots peeled and cut diagonally into 1/2-inch slices
- 4 Yukon gold potatoes peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks
- 1 Fuji apple washed and grated (peeling is optional; about 1 cup once grated)
- 4 cups mushroom broth*
- 1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce
- 1 cup frozen peas
For the Curry Roux:
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons ground coriander
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground turmeric
- 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon chili powder
- 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 2 tablespoons canola oil or grapeseed oil
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 3 tablespoons honey
- In a Dutch oven or similar large, sturdy pot, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat. Add the chicken, salt, and pepper. Sear the chicken, stirring every few minutes, until it’s mostly cooked through, about 5 to 6 minutes (it will finish cooking later). Transfer to a plate or bowl and set aside.
- To the now empty pot, add 1 tablespoon oil and the onion. Sauté stirring every so often, until beginning to brown and turning translucent, about 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the garlic and ginger and cook, stirring constantly, just until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
- Add the carrots, potato, apple, mushroom broth, soy sauce, and chicken. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce to a steady, gentle simmer. Skim off any scum that has risen to the surface. Let simmer uncovered, until the potatoes and carrots are softened, about 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, make the curry roux: In a small bowl stir together the cumin, coriander, turmeric, cardamom, cinnamon, chili powder, and nutmeg.
- In a medium saucepan, heat the 2 tablespoons oil over medium heat. Add the flour and with a wooden spoon, stir quickly and deliberately to toast the flour until it is a dark golden, mushroomy brown, about 4 minutes.
- Stir in the spices and continue cooking and stirring for 1 minute more.
- Remove the spices from the heat and stir in the tomato paste and honey until smoothly combined. Scrape into the pot with the curry.
- Give the curry a big stir, making sure the spice paste is very well combined. Bring to a simmer and let cook until the potatoes are nice and fork tender and the curry has thickened a tiny bit more, about 5 minutes.
- Remove from the heat and stir in the peas. Taste and adjust the seasoning as desired. Let cool at least 5 minutes, then serve with brown rice.
- * I used the Pacific Foods brand of mushroom broth.
- For a spicy or slightly spicy curry, add 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne powder to your spice mixture.
- See JustOneCookbook.com for an authentic Japanese curry recipe using packaged curry roux cubes.
- TO STORE: Refrigerate curry in an airtight storage container for up to 3 days.
- TO REHEAT: Rewarm leftovers in a Dutch oven on the stovetop over medium-low heat or in the microwave.
- TO FREEZE: Freeze curry in an airtight, freezer-safe storage container for up to 3 months. Let thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating.
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