Monday, November 15, 2010

Japanese-style chicken curry 日本風チキンカレー

"Curry and rice" or "Kareraisu" カレーライス (or sometimes called "Raisukare" ライスカレー) has been an extremely popular "national" dish in Japan for some time. I assume curry was introduced in the late 19th century to Japan by the British, who brought it from their colonial India. I thought Japanese curry was based on the British version made with brown roux and premixed curry powder. There is one more interesting (at least for me) factoid concerning "Kareraisu".  It has to do with Dr. William Smith Clark. He was an American from Massachusetts who came to Japan at the bequest of the Japanese Government to establish the Sapporo Agricultural College 札幌農学校, the predecessor of my alma mater Hokkaido University 北海道大学. He served as president of the college albeit briefly (for 8 months). Despite his short tenure, he had an enormous influence on his young Japanese students, Japanese society and particularly Hokkaido. He is credited with introducing New England style modern dairy agriculture to Hokkaido. Reportedly, he also came up with the idea of putting potatoes in curry. He was said to have discouraged the consumption of rice by his students at the school dormitory (he must have thought white rice was causing vitamin B1 deficiency or beriberi.) The one exception to his interdiction against white rice was when it was served as "Kareraisu". He apparently really liked curry and rice.

Dr. Clark's parting words to the students who came to see him off at a place known as "Hitsujigaoka" 羊ヶ丘 or "Sheep hill" in Sapporo was "Boys, Be ambitious". This became the motto for Hokkaido University as well as general encouragement for young boys in Japan. (The entire phrase was "Boys, Be ambitious like this old man". Thankfully the egotism "like this old man" was left off the Hokkaido University motto). His statue on the campus used to be a major tourist's attraction but is less so now that access is restricted to foot traffic. His statue on the famous Sheep Hill is more easily accessible and more popular. On one of our first trips after our marriage to Hokkaido, I took my bride for a reverent visit to the statue at Sheep Hill. She was significantly underwhelmed. She took one look at the statue with its motto and said "only Boys...really?" She then scanned the pasture with its few obligatory sheep scattered about in keeping with hill's name and dubbed the place "that tourist attraction where they keep a few sheep on leashes." (I sure can digress!)

In any case, going back to curry, even when I was living in Japan, some more authentic Indian curry restaurants were opening up. Now, in many cities in Japan, you have many authentic (I suppose) and diverse ethnic curry restaurants. But the Japanese style curry is still popular in Japan and it will not disappear any time soon (I hope). As a sign of the popularity of Japanese curry, commercial Japanese curry roux is even available in a regular American supermarket. I occasionally make my own curry sauce based on brown roux and a Japanese curry powder (supplemented by other spices such as toasted mustard seeds, cinnamon, cumin etc), but the problem is the smell of the spices while being dry roasted linger in the house for several days. So this time, I made this curry using a S&B brand curry roux. My only modification to this Japanese curry is using whole bone-in, skin-less chicken thighs instead of small pieces of meat which is common in Japanese curry.  The vegetables to be used include onion, carrot and, of course, potato to be authentic Japanese curry. 

First, I removed skin and excess fat from the thighs. I dredged them in a mixture of curry powder (again S&B) and AP flour (the proportion is arbitrary but I used 1 tsp of curry powder to 1/4 cup of flour) in a Ziploc bag. I brown the surface of the meat in a large saute pan on high heat with olive oil, turning once for 5 or so minutes per side. I removed the chicken and placed it in a separate stock pot or Dutch oven. I added roughly chopped onion to the saute pan and sauteed for several minutes and de-grazed using a small amount of chicken broth. I added this to the pot with the chicken thighs and added chicken broth (my usual Swanson reduced salt no-fat kind) and water (about half and half to prevent it from being too salty) to cover. I added potatoes (I used small red potatoes with the skin on, eyes removed) and carrot. (The amounts of vegetable and liquid are arbitrary but please refer to the package instructions of the curry roux for the appropriate ratio of the roux and liquid.) I simmered it for 30 minutes with two bay leaves (optional). I dissolved the curry roux and simmered for another 5 minutes.
The classic Japanese condiments to curry are pickled "rakkyou" らっきょう (left) and "fukushinzuke" 福神漬け (right in the back). I had the last of the homemade pickled myouga 茗荷, which was added as well (middle).

Using bone-in whole thighs is easier than cutting up the chicken in small pieces. It also appears to add more flavor to the dish. One of the problems of using the commercial curry roux may be the amount of saturated fat and salt it contains but it tastes really good nonetheless. A good sturdy red wine will be our choice of libation here. We had Worthy 2006 which went well with curry.


Jon said...

If it's a fact, I believe it.

Also, I have seen 'Girls, be ambitious' in print, but it was...let me see...

at Valentine's Day, and I interpreted it as encouragement to be ambitious about giving chocolate to men who are 'better' than you. That won't make Auntie N any happier.

Uncle N said...

Comment from Uncle N: I noticed the Valentine day in Japan has taken different direction.....I am sure auntie N would be more than happy to see the valentine day motto in Japan.

Comment from Auntie N: Only Girls...only on valentines day...only ambitious in love...really?...Moving right along.