National Curried Chicken Day, Japanese-Style

Today, January 12, is National Curried Chicken Day. Yes, that’s an actual thing — it was introduced at some point in the past by shrewdsters in order to sell more chicken and cumin. So we offer our second recipe — Japanese, again — following last week’s Cauliflower-Rice Sushi Rolls.

chicken-katsu-curry-kanji

Chicken-katsu curry (or if you prefer, tori katsu kare) has been my favorite meal since the early 1990s, when I lived in rural Japan. Down the road from the university was a little family-run restaurant; that’s where I got hooked on this dish. It’s hard to find it prepared “just right” outside of a Japanese kitchen. When it does appear on a menu here, the chicken is as often grilled as fried (as at Manuki Neko) or the curry is too thin, or the whole thing comes off as some kind of pan-Asian concoction.

But katsu means breaded and fried, and that’s how we’ll prepare it here. As for the curry base, which is sweet and spicy in Japan, you can’t go wrong with Golden Curry roux blocks. We prefer the chalky blocks to the pre-made liquid sauce mix, because the blocks provide greater control over how thick you make the curry. Unlike Vermont Curry, which has sugar and honey added, Golden Curry isn’t sweet — we prefer the sweetness to come from the onions. But if there’s a bad packaged curry brand out there, we haven’t tried it — you can merrily use whatever’s at hand.

chicken-katsu-curry-ingredients

There are least two ways to prepare this dish: the easy way and the complicated way. We describe the complicated way in detail below, having refined our approach over many years. But there’s nothing wrong with the easy way: First, prepare some chicken. If you don’t want to fry it (too much grease, too much splatter, or too much work), just sauté it in a pan until lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Then make rice or heat tofu (or don’t even bother heating it). Most importantly: Don’t follow the instructions on the curry box. Your dish will come out too watery. Instead, add (a) water and (b) bits of the curry block to a pan, both little by little. Judge the consistency or “chalkiness” of the mixture as you go, adding more water or curry-block as needed. After ten minutes or so of this, start adding your chopped onion and bell peppers, boiled peas and carrot slices, etc.

To make it even simpler, onion is the only vegetable you really need to pull this off. You could skip the bell peppers and all that, and still have a good, satisfying comfort-food dish.

Cabbage is the traditional side dish here. Where the curry is heavy and tight with umame. the chopped cabbage is light and crisp. Where the curry mixes sweet with savory, liquid with a solid chicken base, the cabbage is straightforward and clean. It’s Japanese curry’s crispy garden sorbet, a nice counterpoint.

A final thought on this dish. “Curry” is a polysemic word that means different things even on a single Thai menu, and more so between, say, Japan and India — where a chalky roux block has nothing to do with “curry.” In any context, it’s a different word than “gravy” but not, in the case of Japanese curry, all that different in the dish.

Chicken-katsu curry is fried chicken and gravy. That’s why I’ve always liked it so much.

鳥カレ日おめでとうございます. Happy National Curried Chicken Day.


Ingredients

  • 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 block tofu, or 1 large fresh cauliflower (grated), or 1 bowl rice
  • ½ onion
  • ½ green bell pepper
  • ½ red bell pepper
  • ½ carrot
  • ½ cup frozen green peas
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 2 cups chicken broth, or 2 cups water and ½ tsp chicken bouillon
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 tsp arrowroot, dissolved in ¼ cup water
  • 1 tsp fresh ginger, grated
  • 1 tsp fresh garlic, minced
  • ½ tsp garam masala
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • Optional:
    • Side dishes: ½ cup bok choy (Chinese cabbage) — alternatively, use savoy cabbage; tsukemono slices
    • Toppings: 2 tbsp alfalfa sprouts; tonkatsu sauce (for the cabbage, not the curry!)

Instructions

  1. In a bowl, add 2 cups water and the bouillon, or 2 cups chicken broth.
  2. Dice the onions and bell peppers very thinly.
  3. Dissolve the arrowroot in water.
  4. Bread the chicken with panko crumbs and fry it.
  5. In another pan, heat butter and sauté the onion until brown (15 to 20 minutes).
  6. Midway through cooking time, add:
    • Coconut oil
    • Diced bell peppers
    • Frozen peas
    • Garlic and ginger
    • Flour, curry powder and garam masala and sauté over low heat
    • Broth — pouring into the pan little by little, stirring rapidly
    • The dissolved arrowroot
  7. Simmer the curry roux until thickened, about 20 minutes, over medium-low heat.
  8. If preparing cabbage as a side dish:
    • Chop the cabbage into very fine strings.
    • Drizzle lightly with tonkatsu sauce.
  9. Serving:
    • If serving over cauliflower rice: See our recipe here. For a simpler method, grate the cauliflower and steam it in microwave for 5 minutes without water.
    • If serving over tofu: Heating the tofu is optional. You can warm it in an oven or just let it meld with the hot curry you’re going to pour over it.
    • In any case, don’t mix the chicken or cauliflower/rice/tofu while cooking. Dish those bases first, then spoon the curry on top.
  10. Optional: Garnish with alfalfa sprouts; tsukemono as side.

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