I thought it strange finding curry in Japan. But there were restaurants in Osaka that sold nothing but curry. So many variants. Different proteins. Occasionally vegetarian.
We were so intrigued that, one night, we decided to get dinner at a curry place not five minutes from the apartment where we were staying. Unfortunately, it was already closed when we got there and we didn’t get a chance to try again on subsequent days. My daughter, Sam, was determined to try Japanese chicken curry though that she ordered it at the Rinku food court. Watching her eat her meal, I observed that the sauce of Japanese chicken curry is thicker than anything I’ve had in the past.
Back home, we were sufficiently intrigued to make our version. We read about the dish and discovered that unlike South Asian and Southeast Asian curries, Japanese chicken curry is thickened with roux into which the ground spices are stirred. Ready-to-use curry roux seems to be the more popular choice but our recipe includes intructions for whipping up homemade curry roux.
Once you have your curry roux, lightly brown your chicken in hot oil. To ensure even browning spread the chicken pieces in a single layer. Leave for the undersides to brown before flipping. Then, continue cooking with occasional stirring to brown all sides. Scoop out the chicken but leave the mixture of oil and rendered chicken fat.
In that mixture of oil and renderred chicken fat, saute a sliced onion with a bit of salt and pepper until the slices go limp. Add ginger and garlic, and continue sauteeing until the lovely aroma fills the kitchen.
Add carrot cubes, cook for a couple of minutes, then, add the chicken back in. You need liquid to cook the chicken in.
If using bone-in chicken, it is quite alright to use water instead of bone broth. The bones in the chicken will expel flavor during simmering which translates to an equivalent of pre-made bone broth. If, however, you opt to use chicken fillets, then bone broth is a must.
If using water or unseasoned / underseasoned bone broth, you will need to add more salt and pepper after pouring the liquid into the pan.
Allow the chicken to boil in the liquid for a while then stir in carrot cubes. Once the mixture is boiling once more, lower the heat and cook the chicken with the vegetables until they are all tender.
Now, the apple. If the curry roux is the first marked difference between Japanese chicken curries and other curries, apple is the second. Peel and apple and grate directly over the chicken and vegetables.
Then, take your curry roux and stir in until fully blended. Taste the sauce, adjust the seasonings, if needed, then serve your Japanese chicken curry with hot rice.
Japanese chicken curry
For the stew
- 800 grams chicken thighs bone-in and skin-on
- 2 tablespoons cooking oil
- 2 onions peeled and thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped ginger
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
- 1 carrot peeled and cut into two-inch cubes
- 2 potatoes peeled and cut into two-inch cubes
- 3 to 4 cups chicken bone broth
- 1 apple peeled and cored
Make the curry roux
- In a sauce pan, melt the butter.
- Stir in the flour, all at once, until the mixture is smooth.
- Cook the roux over medium-low heat, with occasionally stirring, until lightly browned.
- Off the heat, stir in the curry powder, chili flakes, soy sauce and ketchup. Set aside.
Cook the stew
- Wipe the chicken thighs with paper towels.
- Using a heavy knife, chop each thigh through the bone into two portions.
- Toss the chicken thighs with a teaspoon of salt and half a teaspoon of pepper.
- Heat the cooking oil in a wok or casserole.
- Over high heat, spread the chicken in hot oil and allow the undersides to sear for a few minutes. Flip and sear the opposite sides. Stir and continue cooking until the chicken is lightly browned on all sides.
- Scoop out the chicken and transfer to a plate.
- In the remaining oil (which now includes rendered fat from the chicken skin), soften the onion slices with a little salt and pepper over medium heat.
- Add the garlic and ginger. Sprinkle in a bit more salt and pepper. Continue cooking, stirring often, for a minute or two.
- Throw in the carrot cubes and cook with occasional stirring for a minute.
- Stir in the chicken.
- Pour in the broth. Bring to the boill, lower the heat and cover the pan. Cook for 10 minutes.
- Stir in the potato cubes. Cover the pan again and cook for 15 to 20 minutes or until both the carrot and potato cubes are cooked through.
- Grate the apple dirctly into the pan and stir.
- Add the roux, a heaping tablespoonful at a time and stirring after each addition. When all of the roux has been added, simmer the chicken curry for another 10 minutes.
- Taste the sauce and adjust the seasonings, as needed.
- Scoop rice into shallow bowls and ladle the chicken curry around the rice.