By Loryn Stone
My curry desires run deep.
While inspired by dishes from India, and served everywhere from England to Thailand, Japanese curry has become an entity (and arguable a society/fandom) all of its own. (Never forget Lister and the Vindaloo!)
Curry: Maybe it’s part of nerd culture. Maybe it’s because going exploring for the best curries ever was exciting. Maybe it’s because it just tastes so damn good. But whatever the case, going out for curry with friends is one of my strongest late teen/early twenties memories.
We didn’t have to look far. Everyone in the Valley knew that E&E in Northridge, just a few minutes away from California State University Northridge was the holder of the most amazing curry in the universe. It was this tiny hole in the wall where a sweet old lady cooked up curries in a tiny kitchen. Her husband, a tall, slender, muscular older man in tiny running shorts and a kick ass beard counted the till on loop. You walked in and it felt like you were home, and you could order any spiciness of curry you wanted. After ten, you were charged 10 cents per spice level. Level 6 was always good enough for me, if I recall.
But then suddenly, their son died, and the two of them shut down their shop. It was terribly sad, and multiple losses occurred that day. Other curry restaurants exist, but they’re just not…that universal experience.
Although if you’re ever in Little Tokyo in downtown Los Angeles and want some great curry, skip Curry House and head straight to Las Galas. Along with their kick ass teriyaki bowls, their curry is satisfying, delicious, and affordable.
I have to admit though—the first time I had Japanese curry, I didn’t understand what everyone was jizzing pants about. Granted, I was excited to try it.
And why was that? Because curry is a staple it….you guessed it…anime!
When I saw that thick, slow bubbling stew served over hot rice, I knew I had to have it. The flavors were foreign. I admittedly choked it down. But after that, my taste buds transformed and I knew I needed more.
It’s pretty easy to find packets of pre-made Japanese curry mix in local supermarkets. I’ve seen them pretty readily available in just about any Asian aisle. It looks more or less like a chocolate bar of seasoning that you break into squares and melt into your soup mixture and it makes the curry sauce that you scoop over rice. These packs are cheap, easy to make, and truthfully, they’re delicious.
But, they also have MSG out the ass. And if you’re anything like me, MSG gives you migraines, dry mouth, and in the worst-case scenario, makes you poop too much. Therefore, I spent years trying to develop my own scratch made curry recipe. I finally have it in a very delicious and easy place. Some of the ingredients may seem unorthodox, but it makes for a very balanced and well-rounded curry. So, from one weeb nerd to another, I’d like to share my scratch-made Japanese curry rice recipe (with homemade Sunomono pickles) with you today.
There are three parts to this recipe. The sunomono pickles, the rice-cooking method, and the curry itself. We’ll prepare them as thus to keep it streamlined.
Sunomono Pickles Ingredients
- Half an English cucumber, thinly sliced
- ¼ C Rice vinegar
- 2 TBSP Sugar
- Splash of soy sauce
- Splash of Mirin cooking wine (if you have it, not essential!)
Wash and slice your cucumbers and stuff them in a clean mason jar. Add your sugar and liquid ingredients in a microwave safe bowl. Warm them until the sugar dissolves. Pour them over your cucumbers. If it’s not enough liquid, make another small batch of it until your cucumbers are covered. The pickling liquid should taste sweet and vinegary with a touch of salt flavor. Taste it until it’s to your liking. You might want more salt or sugar or vinegar, depending on your pallet.
I happened to have extra Nori sheets (for sushi making) lying around, so I tore some up and added them into my pickles for extra flavor. Sesame seeds or sesame oil tastes delicious in there too. Seal up your jar and store these in the fridge for 2-4 hours before eating.
Steamed White Rice
- 2 C of uncooked white rice (I like Jasmine best for Curry)
- 2 cups of water
- Small sauce pot with a tight-fitting lid
- Clean kitchen towel or cloth
- Small strainer or sieve
It took me years to learn how to make rice correctly without a rice cooker. But once I learned this method, I never went back. You take your uncooked rice, pour it into your sieve, and rinse it under the kitchen sink. Then you put it into your sauce pot with 2 cups of water. Cover with the lid and bring it to a boil. Once it starts to boil, kick the heat back to low, lift the lid, and put the clean towel over the boiling rice. Put the lid back on over the cloth and fold the corners of the cloth on top of the lid so they don’t catch fire. (Yes, I’ve made that mistake too).
Let the rice cook on low for 10 minutes. Then turn your flame off and let the rice steam for another 10 minutes undisturbed. I guarantee if done correctly, you’ll have the most delicious, perfect steamed white rice you’ve ever tasted.
Now, on to the main course.
- 1 lbs of meat (this can be steak, chicken, pork, tofu. It can be a fried cutlet, grilled, doesn’t matter. Whatever your taste designates is pretty much the right choice)
- 1 medium onion
- 2-3 medium potatoes
- 3-4 carrots
- 1 red bell pepper
- 1/2 C sliced mushrooms
- 2 TBSP Curry Powder (I use this recipe from The Minimalist Baker and just love it)
- 1 TBSP unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 TBSP ketchup
- 1 (15oz) can of reduced-fat coconut milk
- 1 ½ C of water
- Salt and pepper
See what I mean about unorthodox? But I promise, this yields an amazing curry. Start by slicing up your onions and caramelizing them in your Dutch Oven. You can use butter, olive oil, coconut oil, vegetable oil, doesn’t matter. But you want to cook your onions on medium heat and really caramelize them the best you can.
That onion paste is essential to the sort of “curry flavor paste” we’ll be making for this recipe. Once your onions are caramelized, add your curry powder, cocoa powder and ketchup. It will quickly form a ball or paste and you want to scoop that out of the pot before it burns. Put it in a bowl and set aside.
Chop your vegetables, add some fresh oil to your Dutch Oven, and start sautéing. Add salt and pepper to taste. At this point you can add your raw chicken, beef, etc. to start browning. But because I have kids who hate curry, I grilled up a piece of flank steak and just served it on the side, about 7-8 minutes per side for medium doneness.
As mentioned, you can also cook up fried pork or chicken cutlets and serve it with your curry and it’s just delicious.
When your vegetables have been cooking about 5 minutes or so, add your curry flavor mixture back into the pot and let it melt down. Crack open your can of coconut milk and dump it in. Add another 12oz or so of water, or until it’s just covering the top of the curry. Bring it to a boil, cover with the lid, and kick the heat down to medium. Let it simmer about 25 minutes.
After 25 minutes, take the lid off and bring the heat back up to high. At this point, your food is cooked but your sauce needs to thicken. After all, we don’t have any roux, flour, or corn starch slurry in here to thicken. It just has to do it by itself. In addition to imparting flavor, the coconut milk will help your curry thicken to the right consistency. You want this to cook down to basically a thick gravy consistency. This will take anywhere from ad additional 10-20 minutes.
For plating, scoop some of that perfectly steamed rice onto a dish. Pour a generous helping of curry next to it (or on top of the rice if you’re wild). Add your meat if it’s not already in your curry, serve it up alongside your sweet and sour sunomono pickles.
Enjoy, my fellow weeb!
You can find Loryn cooking up ideas on Twitter. She also has a personal blog. Her debut novel My Starlight, a young adult story about anime, cosplaying, fandom, sexuality, love, loss, and friendship will be released August 3rd, 2018 by Affinity Rainbow Publications. Pre-Orders will be available in July.
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