My mother always made curry with S&B or House Foods curry bricks, just as convenient as bouillon cubes. I like the convenient part, but I don’t care for all the additives that go into most of these store-bought brands. So I started making my own by blending a variety of spices including turmeric, which gives my curry a bright mustardy yellow color and pungent flavor. First you will need to make your own Japanese Curry Brick which you can keep in the fridge for 1 week or in the freezer for 3 months. The base stock is a cold-brew kombu and shiitake mushroom dashi, which can, like the curry brick, be made ahead of time. The curry is traditionally served with rice or noodles and fukujinzuke, a classic pickle made with seven vegetables, a perfect crunchy counterpart to the soft, mild curry.
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/2 pounds (680 g) boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch (2.5 cm) chunks
2 onions, halved and thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons minced ginger
2 carrots, cut into bite-size pieces
1 celery stalk, cut into bite-size pieces
1 pound (455 g) Yukon Gold, russet, or other potatoes, peeled and cut into bite-size pieces
8 cups (1.9 L) Bonito and Kombu Dashi (recipe follows) or chicken stock
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons soy sauce, or to taste
2 tablespoons sake
1/3 recipe Japanese Curry Brick (recipe follows)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 recipe Fukujinzuke (recipe follows)
Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the chicken and cook until lightly browned, 6 to 8 minutes.
Reduce the heat to low and add the onions, garlic, and ginger. Cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the carrots, celery, potatoes, dashi, honey, soy sauce, and sake, increase the heat to medium-high, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 20 minutes, or until the liquid is reduced by a third. Add the curry brick, stir to break it down, and continue simmering until the sauce is thickened but still pourable and reduced by about two-thirds, about 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper as needed. Remove from heat and serve with rice and fukujinzuke.
Japanese Curry Brick
Most Japanese cooks rely on prepared curry bricks to make curry. These are basically blocks of seasoned roux—the shape of a chocolate bar—made of spices (including turmeric, coriander, cumin, and fennel), salt, flour, and butter that can be dissolved in water to make an instant curry sauce. My brick is on the mild side, so if you like it spicier, add the cayenne pepper. To make your curry block gluten-free, chickpea flour is a good alternative that is used in Indian curries. If using chickpea flour, it will be soupy in consistency. You can add a tablespoon of mochiko (glutinous rice flour) diluted with equal amounts of water to thicken the curry.
One curry brick in this recipe makes about three batches of Japanese-style curry. You can break up the brick into three pieces and store it in the refrigerator. This recipe makes more curry powder than you will need for the brick. You can use the remaining powder to sprinkle on vegetables and salads or save it for the next batch of brick.
Makes 1 Curry Brick
For the Curry Powder
1 tablespoon brown or black mustard seeds
One 2-inch (5 cm) piece of cinnamon stick, broken into small pieces
1 bay leaf
2 to 3 cardamom pods
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
1 1/2 teaspoons black peppercorns
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon ground turmeric
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or more to taste)
For the roux
1/2 cup (1 stick/115 g) unsalted butter
2/3 cup (70 g) all-purpose flour or chickpea flour
In a medium skillet, toast mustard seeds, cinnamon, bay leaf, cardamom pods, coriander seeds, fennel seeds, cumin seeds, fenugreek seeds, and cloves over medium heat, stirring until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat.
Transfer the toasted spices to a spice grinder, add the peppercorns, and grind at the highest speed for 30 seconds. Shake the grinder a couple of times to make sure the cinnamon stick is pulverized. Sift the ground spices through a fine-mesh strainer set over a bowl. Add the paprika, ginger, turmeric, salt, and cayenne, if using. You will have 2/3 cup (50 g) of the ground spice mix.
To make the curry brick, put the butter in a medium nonstick skillet and place over medium-high heat. When the butter is nearly melted, turn the heat to low. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until the roux turns light brown, 15 to 20 minutes, being careful not to let it burn. Add 1/3 cup (36 g) of the curry powder and mix well. Transfer the seasoned roux to a small container or a mini aluminum loaf pan measuring 5 1/4 x 3 1/2 x 2 inches (14.5 x 8.5 x 5 cm). Let stand at room temperature until the roux is set, about 3 hours. But you can start using the curry brick in liquid form if you wish to make curry right away.
To store, take the curry brick out of the container and wrap in parchment paper or plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator for up to 1 month or in the freezer for up to 3 months.
Bonito and Kombu Dashi
Makes about 4 cups (960 mL)
This combination of bonito flakes and kombu makes the most popular and flavorful all-purpose dashi. The idea is to extract the flavors by steeping the ingredients for the first round of dashi, which is called ichiban dashi, or “number 1 dashi.” The amount of bonito flakes I use for this recipe depends on how I will use the dashi. For everyday dashi, I make a medium-strength dashi using 3 cups (20 g) bonito flakes. When I make noodle soups, I want a stronger dashi, so I use 4 cups (30 g) bonito flakes. This dashi is enjoyed for its fragrance and is so flavorful on its own that you can drink it straight, like soup.
5 cups (1.2 L) filtered water
1 piece kombu, about 3 x 3 inches (7.5 x 7.5 cm)
3 to 4 cups (20 to 30 g) bonito flakes
Combine the water and kombu in a medium saucepan. Heat over low heat until bubbles begin to form around the kombu, 5 to 10 minutes. Remove the piece of kombu before the water comes to a boil. Bring the water to a boil, turn off the heat. Add the bonito flakes. Let stand for 2 minutes, without stirring, to steep the bonito flakes.
To strain the dashi, pour the liquid through a fine-mesh sieve or a sieve lined with cheesecloth or a paper towel. Do not press the bonito flakes while straining, as it will cloud the dashi. Use immediately, or cool completely and refrigerate for up to 4 or 5 days or freeze up to 1 month.
Fukujinzuke (Relish of the Seven Lucky Gods)
Makes 4 to 6 servings
Fukujinzuke are tangy and crunchy pickles that match perfectly with Japanese curry but also are delicious with plain rice. This pickle consists of seven vegetables—daikon radish, carrot, cucumber, eggplant, burdock, lotus, and ginger—but you don’t have to make this pickle with all seven if you have trouble finding any of them. You can use mushrooms and other vegetables if you like (but no leafy greens). The tanginess comes from a sweet-and-sour vinegar sauce. Allow these pickles to marinate in this sauce for 1 or 2 days for best flavor. The name fukujin is derived from the Seven Lucky Gods of prosperity, abundance, dignity, beauty, wisdom, longevity, and protection.
FOR THE SAUCE
1 dried Japanese or Italian (Calabrian) red chile, seeded and chopped
1/2 cup (120 ml) soy sauce
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
1/4 cup (60 ml) mirin
1 tablespoon cane sugar
2 tablespoons sake
8 ounces (230 g) daikon radish, peeled and quartered lengthwise, then diced 1/4-inch (6 mm) thick
4 ounces (115 g) lotus root, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 small carrot, peeled and quartered lengthwise, then diced 1/4-inch (6 mm) thick
2 fresh or dried shiitake mushrooms (soaked in 1 cup of water overnight in the refrigerator, if using dried shiitakes), sliced 1/8-inch (3 mm) thick
1 Japanese eggplant, sliced lengthwise, then diced 1/4-inch (6 mm) thick
1 tablespoon peeled and minced ginger
1 Japanese or Persian cucumber, diced 1/4-inch (6 mm) thick
In a medium saucepan, combine the chile, soy sauce, vinegar, mirin, sugar, and sake and bring to a boil over medium heat. Add the daikon radish, lotus root, carrot, mushrooms, eggplant, and ginger and bring to a second boil over medium heat; boil for 2 minutes. Turn off the heat and add the cucumbers. Let stand for 2 minutes, then strain the vegetables through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl, reserving the liquid. Return the liquid to the pot and bring it to a third boil over medium heat. Remove from heat and let cool.
Transfer the pickled vegetables into a glass jar with a lid and pour the liquid over the vegetables. Stir with a spoon. Bring to room temperature then cover with a lid and let the vegetables pickle in the liquid in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days before using. Store in the refrigerator, where your Seven Lucky Gods will keep for up to 2 weeks.
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