How To Make Awesome Japanese Curry From Bricks

Hi, I'm Chris Kohler, new Features Editor at Kotaku US. I'd like to introduce myself to you by talking about how much I love the Super Nintendo, or Ouendan. And that's what I'd do if this were a video game website. But since it's about snacks and anime, I will begin with Japanese curry secrets.

So below (reprinted from my personal blog) is my method for making Japanese curry rice at home and making it taste not-bad, the easy, fast and lazy way. The answers -- to this, and to so many of life's questions -- are salt, fat and chocolate.


While my preferred method of eating Japanese curry, the world's most perfect food, is fly to Japan and have an expert make it for me, sometimes I make it at home. In all the times I've ever made curry, though, I've only made it from scratch -- like, scratch scratch -- once. And that was mostly my wife doing that. The secret to making curry at home is to just use the curry bricks they sell in grocery stores, but to do it the right way, and then to jazz it up at the end with ingredients they'd never put on the directions on the box. That's what I'm going to show you.

Look, if you want to make it from scratch, go ahead. Just prepare to spend all day doing it. There's a reason even Iron Chef Morimoto says, in his cookbook, to just use the damn bricks. Their combination of flour, fat and spices is already perfectly proportioned, and it takes out a lot of the need for precision and timing.

But brick curry tastes a lot like, well, brick curry -- it can have a bitter aftertaste, it's a little thin in terms of its flavour profile, and it's just miles away from the best stuff you can have in Japan. I can't make anything as good as the best Japanese stuff, but I can fake it, and so can you.

The best bricks to start with are Vermont Curry. You may have to go to an Asian specialty store to get these, but you can also find them online pretty easily. This has a sweeter flavour than the others (although it doesn't exactly taste like honey-drenched apples as the box implies). And since I like sweet curry, this is a good place to start. (The procedure below will work with all bricks, but really, try to get Vermont.)

Bad restaurants and many Japanese mums like to put gigantic chunks of barely-cooked vegetables into their curry. No thank you! If you like huge veggies in your curry, go for it, but these would be considered an optional topping at a Japanese curry joint, not an essential ingredient.

That said, we can add some rich flavours to our curry with some finely-diced veggies that we saute well in the pan first. (If you have a Le Creuset or other enamelled cast iron Dutch oven, this is the time to let it shine.)

Butter is a delicious condiment or just as a snack by itself. Use a bunch to saute the veggies! It will all just go into the sauce later and make it delicious.

Don't just "sweat" the onions and carrots. Really cook the crap out of 'em. If they start to brown too much on the bottom because your heat is too high, throw in some water to deglaze everything. Or hell, throw in some white wine. Might as well start building the flavours now!

When everything is nice and mushy and brown, throw in some salt! Seasoning at every step is one of the things that home cooks often forget to do. My guests often comment on how good every little piece of onion tastes. It's because they're seasoned!

Even if you're going to have katsu curry or other toppings, you still want a nice fatty cut of meat in there, because the fat's gonna render out and continue to make the curry delicious. This is a chuck steak that I cut into 2.5cm cubes and browned in a frying pan. You can do this in the Dutch oven too, just throwing them in once the carrots and onions are done. I just, uh, forgot.

When the beef is brown on all sides, season it with a pinch of salt!

Add the amount of water that the directions on the brick box say to your carrots, onions and meat. This should be three cups of water for a half-size six-brick box, or six cups for a full-size 12-brick box. I always make more curry than I think I need. On the incredibly rare chance that there are leftovers, it reheats beautifully.

Bring the water to a boil. And now…

Brick time! Break 'em up and toss 'em in. Stir until they're dissolved. Now simmer it for about 10 minutes, and watch as the pot of thin brown water magically thickens up into curry.

Now, the box says to just eat the curry as it is right now. And you could. And it would be… OK. Aftertaste-y. Somewhat satisfying. At this stage, try a spoonful and see what it tastes like, for comparison purposes later. Because we're not stopping here. Note that there are many, many places you could go, but here's where I'm gonna take you:

Secret ingredient #1: Milk chocolate! I found out about this from a friend of a friend way back in the day, and I've never made curry without it since. In this case, I use about 45g of chocolate for a 12-brick package of curry. This doesn't make it taste like you're eating hot chocolate. What it does is round out the flavours, take away all that bitter aftertaste left by the bricks, and make it taste a bit more like the curry you'd get at a curry shop in Japan, many of which use chocolate in their recipes.

Melt it all in (it will take a bit longer than the bricks). Taste again. You'll immediately get it.

Secret ingredient #2, which I didn't take a picture of: Honey! As I said, I love my Japanese curry on the sweeter side, but there's no sweetness in the bricks. You've got to add your own, and honey is a great way to do that. For a pot this size, I threw in two tablespoons. But again: Taste, and try it, and maybe you'll want more!

Secret ingredient #3: Shredded cheddar! Now, cheese is a somewhat popular topping on Japanese curry in Japan -- like, they will plate your curry, then throw some shredded cheese on top. Usually, this cheese wouldn't be something with such a strong flavour as cheddar. That would overpower the taste of the curry. So they'd use something on the order of Monterey Jack -- creamy and melty, but something that blends, not overpowers.

But that's not what we're doing. We're melting this cheese into this curry. Do it a bit at a time, melting a pinch of it (as above) fully into the curry, then another couple of pinches. This will continue to add different flavours to the curry, while softening up the texture of the whole thing. Again, taste it after you add each pinch of cheese, and watch it transform bit by bit.

Are we done now? Yeah, if you want to be. You'll notice in the pic above that there are still some little flecks of unmelted cheese. This won't be the case if you now do what I did, which was to transfer the whole pot into a slow cooker and leave it on Low for a couple hours prior to dinnertime. Everything will totally incorporate, the hanger-on bits of cheese will melt, and people will be very surprised when you tell them there's a fistful of cheddar inside the pot, because this will be the best damn "homemade" Japanese curry they have ever had, guaranteed.

(Final photo is terrible because we only had a little bit left after everyone was done voraciously eating it.)

Other potential secret ingredients: How about grating some apple into the curry? What about throwing in a cup of strong coffee to replace some of the water? Both of these are common bonus items that I didn't use this time, but have tried in the past to great success.

A note on toppings: Of course, having the traditional pork or chicken katsu is always nice, although that doubles the complexity of your dinner plans since you have to bread and fry a bunch of cutlets. At least you can make the curry entirely ahead of time, get it into the slow cooker, and have it piping hot and ready to go as soon as the cutlets are done.

If you don't want to bother with that, another good topping popular in Japan is gyoza, AKA potstickers. You can buy frozen ones and they taste pretty good with not very much prep work needed, and they work great floating in curry.

Good luck!


Comments

    Japanese curry is most definitely not the world's most perfect food. It would have to be the least appealing style of curry there is.

      Take that back, Katsu Curry is absolutely amazing.

    Why is an Asian grocer selling something called "Vermont Curry"?

      Because it's made by a Japanese company; because it's used to make a Japanese style of cuisine; because it's more popular and more widely available in Japan than outside of it. Pick any of these, since all are true!

      It's actually an interesting story. Vermont Curry was released in Japan in 1963 and it's the most popular brand of curry roux now. The particular thing that sets it apart is that it has Honey and Apple in the ingredients. That's where the association with Vermont comes from. Back in 1958 some crazy quack doctor from Vermont hit the NYT Bestsellers list with a book, "Folk Medicine: A Vermont Doctor's Guide to Good Health" which among other things advocated a combination of apple cider vinegar and honey (called "honegar") which was supposed to be a miracle cure-all. It spread to Japan in the 1960s where the combination was known as the "Vermont Health Method". House Foods saw this fad and decided to latch onto it, marketing their Honey & Apple ingredients as making their curry 'healthier' and attaching the Vermont name to pick up the people that were into the honegar fad.

      Last edited 29/03/17 6:03 am

    And that's what I'd do if this were a video game website. But since it's about snacks and anime, I will begin with Japanese curry secrets.
    Well, actually...

      It's a worry when the editor doesn't even know.

    No potatoes? What kind of bloody rubbish Japanese curry are you making here? Hell, personally I'd say one can skip meat in the curry itself (add it as a topping if you wish) but it must have potatoes.

    'brick' ..... It's called a block.

    Curry block, block of chocolate - Not a brick of curry (??), or a brick of chocolate.

    The correct term for each individual piece broken off from a block is a pip, though they're more commonly referred to as just pieces or some oddly call them squares.

    The chocolate and honey still seems weird despite the assurances. Any curry experts care to weigh in on that?

      Honey is added to sweeten the curry, Japanese curries in general have a sweeter flavour profile than other curries but there are exceptions depending on region/personal tastes. Same reason some people grate an apple into their curry. Adding chocolate does the above, but also adds dairy which gives the curry a nice mellow flavour. Adding milk/cheese achieves the same result.

    Anyone want to explain how kotaku isn't a site for video games and/or why the writer thought that's smart to say?
    Was he trying to be funny or..?

    Milk chocolate. And you chose Hershey's? I prefer my curry to not taste like vomit.
    And that is not an exaggeration. Hershey's bars contain the exact chemical that gives human vomit that certain taste - Butyric acid. It's also found in the colon and body odour.

    Since so many people in the US take Hershey's as the standard for chocolate, a lot of other smaller chocolate companies also add the vomit chemical to their chocolate to make it taste similar. So a lot of chocolate over there is ruined. Thus was borne the saying in our family (part American, part Australian) "If you are an American you like Hershey's until you taste Cadbury's".

      And then you taste Japanese chocolate like Royce and Cadbury's is ruined forever...

    This seems to kater heavily to Americans. For those reading on the Australian Kotaku, I disagree with most of this as this will make the curry sickly sweet. For me, I add a bit more curry powder and a touch of cumin and cardomom as the blocks can be a bit light on, the cheese and meat are all right, large diced vegetables IS the way to do it. Chocolate is madness, as japanese curry is already quite sweet (although cocoa powder is my secret ingrediant in chilli con carne). Seriously, this method suggested is why america was where I had the worst meals of my life. Heck, even england seems to make better food. (Don't get me wrong, america has some amazing food, but it is in the BBQ, burger spectrum. Everything else is just wrong)

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