Japanese curry is one of the most beloved foods in Japan. You’re bound to find a specialty restaurant or at least one that serves it when you walk around town. Shopping at a supermarket, you’ll also find aisles that are stacked to the top with different brands and flavours.
Japanese curry has a thick sauce consistency, and cooking this dish is very easy with only a few core ingredients. But creating a curry with deep umami, texture and flavour is where the real journey begins. Like most foods, there is no correct recipe as it comes down to what you like, and many recipes will have their own special ‘secret’
In this blog, we share our version of a home-cooked Japanese curry which we like to use for both dinner and in bento boxes the next day. We typically have the curry on rice, but you can also make a curry udon or dip bread in it with the sauce.
Ingredients for Japanese curry
There are only a few core ingredients you need to make this curry. We have suggestions for cutting the vegetables, but you can cut them according to what you like.
- Vegetable oil
- 1 to 2 onions
- Depends on the size. We typically like to add two to bring out sweetness and depth to the curry. Cut in half and slice thinly into half moons.
- 2 carrots
- Also to bring out a different sweetness and depth. Cut into small 1-2cm cubes.
- 3 to 4 potatoes
- These will dissolve and add some thickness to the curry, but too many will make the curry too starchy, so adjust depending on the size of the potatoes. Cut into 4-5cm cubes.
- 250g minced beef
- You can substitute this for any meat and cut. We like minced meat because it’s relatively cheaper, easy to prepare and cook, and distributes the meat and flavour through the sauce.
- 1 clove of garlic, sliced
- Curry roux
- In Australia, you can get these in local and Asian supermarkets, although the selection is limited.
- We like to mix two types of roux. Try out different types and find your favourite combination.
- We use S&B’s Golden Curry (hot), and Ebara’s Yokohama Haku Raitei (hot). You probably can’t find the latter in Australia, so we substitute this with House Foods’ Java curry (hot).
- Oyster sauce (optional)
- We’ve tried different brands, and they all bring different flavours (some not as delectable as others)
- We like the oyster sauce from Panda brand
- Honey (optional)
- Butter (optional)
Some core points
- Don’t skimp on the onions. Too little and you won’t get the depth.
- Cut some potato smaller for them to dissolve to add some starchy thickness to the curry. But add too much and they’ll overpower the curry. Trial and error.
- Don’t add too much water initially. You can always add more, but you can’t take it out.
- Add the curry roux to get your desired thickness and flavour (don’t need to follow the roux’s cooking instructions to the letter!)
- The oyster sauce, honey and butter add more umami and depth to the curry. You can also add other ingredients like chocolate, coffee, milk and even yoghurt, but don’t go bonkers.
- If you add too much honey, it can make the curry go watery. It’s probably better to add before the roux, but we add it after the roux because we find the depth the honey brings is more prominent than if we add it earlier.
1. Add vegetable oil on medium heat in a pot (about 2 tablespoons).
2. Fry the sliced onions on medium to high heat. Cook till caramelized and fragrant.
3. Add sliced garlic. Stir through for about 30 seconds (don’t burn the garlic).
4. Add minced beef. Break and stir with spatula. Try not to leave large chunks.
5. Add salt and pepper.
6. Add carrots once most of the meat is cooked through.
7. Stir fry for 3 minutes until carrot is cooked.
8. Add boiling water until about 1-2 cms above the contents
9. Bring to boil on medium heat, simmer for 5-10 minutes.
10. Remove the grey foam scum (which is denatured protein) that forms. Keep removing.
11. Add the potatoes.
12. Add more boiling water until about 2 cms above the contents.
13. Remove more grey foam scum.
14. Boil on medium heat until potato is cooked. You can test this by using a ladle to cut a potato chunk. If it is soft enough to cut through easily, it’s time to add the roux.
15. Turn off the heat.
16. Add 2-3 cubes of the first curry roux (Golden curry roux).
17. Dissolve well by stirring through with the ladle. Do this until you can't see the roux you added.
18. Turn on heat to low to medium heat.
19. Add the second curry roux and stir to dissolve. Keep adding the roux until the desired consistency is achieved.
20. Add the oyster sauce, honey and butter. No hard rules about the amount here – we add a tablespoon of each, but adjust according to your taste.
21. Cook on low heat for another 5-10 mins. Make sure to keep stirring as the bottom will burn if left idle. You should get a gooey consistency. Most of the potatos may have dissolved already.
22. And you are done! Put the sauce over rice, udon, or dip with bread.
Bento box ideas
We like to cook extra to make a curry bento the next day too. You can separate the curry in a 2 tier bento box like the Benkei big bento box or Kimono Yume Sakura bento box, or just place over rice in a 1 tier bento box like the cherry woodgrain bento box.
Other great curry ideas are with bread. You could use the curry as a filling in a sealed sandwich. These are great for kids lunch boxes. We have some sandwich cutter/sealers in different shapes to help with this. Here's a sandwich lunch in the Sakura Mokume 1 tier bento box with exactly this.
You could also cut a really thick piece of bread, carve out the middle to create a pit, and then fill it up with the curry! This one was really fun to make.
This last one may not be common to put in a bento box but is certainly doable if it has a sealed lid. It's actually quite a common dish in Japan - the humble but yummy curry udon. We don't actually have a curry udon bento, but we do have one we prepared for lunch!
You should be able to cook up a delicious curry in under and 45 mins. The great thing about Japanese curry is you can end up with lots of leftover which you store in the fridge. It actually tastes even better the second or third day because the umami will set in. And of course, you can use the curry in a myriad of ways to make your bento for your lunch the next day.
Oh and one more thing - Japanese curry is best served hot, so if you need a lunch box that is microwavable too, you can browse our selection of bento boxes here.