A great way to support learning a new language is to immerse yourself just as much in the culture and cuisine as in the language itself. To that end, I’ve been cooking and reading about Japanese food lately. Here, it’s the turn of katsu curry.
Like quite a few dishes in Japan, katsu originated elsewhere in the world but, as with many so-called youshoku (Western) foods, the Japanese made it their own. Based on a European breaded cutlet, it was originally called katsuretsu (a phonetic representation of “cutlet”), but was quickly shortened to katsu. Pork (ton)katsu is the most popular, but chicken is also widely enjoyed.
Likewise, another youshoku dish is curry rice, known in Japanese as karee raisu. This type of curry didn’t come to Japan from India (though Indian style curries can certainly be found in Japan) but from Britain, courtesy of the Royal Navy, and is similar to anglicised versions of curry that were popular in Britain a few decades ago.
Indeed, when I started investigating recipes for the curry sauce, thinking to create my own spice mix from scratch, I quickly discovered that the Japanese rely on pre-purchased mixes. Restaurants buy this in powdered form, combining it with tomato, coconut milk and a few other ingredients. Home cooks often opt for the ready-made blocks or granules, which they simply cook with water, adding carrots and onions if they wish.
Katsu-karee is the combination of both the above imports—breaded pork, chicken or beef are served with rice and a generous puddle of curry sauce.
Japanese rice is different to the varieties I’m most familiar with. It’s short-grain and somewhat sticky rice, but not the same as the glutinous varieties used in East Asian sticky-rice dishes. When we’ve had none to hand, we’ve substituted fragrant basmati, but I think Italian risotto types such as arborio would be closer. More recently, we’ve stocked up on some Japanese rice at our local Japanese grocery store.
Recipe: Chicken Katsu Curry Rice
400 grams mini breast fillets, or chicken breasts cut into a few pieces
1 to 1.5 cup panko breadcrumbs
1 cup plain seasoned flour (salt and pepper)
1 large egg (may need a second egg)
Vegetable oil as per your deep-fat fryer
Japanese rice (or basmati if Japanese rice not available)
Curry sauce made up from mix, available from Japanese grocery shops
Optional: onions and carrots, diced, to add to curry sauce
Note: It’s impossible to give exact measurements for egg, flour and breadcrumbs needed as it will depend on the exact size of your chicken pieces. I buy panko breadcrumbs in large bags, so I can easily shake a little more into the bowl if needed.
- Cook your rice while preparing and frying the chicken.
- Likewise, make up your curry sauce according to the packet instructions, adding onions and carrots if you like.
- To prepare the chicken, dip (and turn to coat evenly) a chicken fillet in the seasoned flour, then dip (and turn to coat evenly) into beaten egg, and then dip (and turn to coat evenly) into panko breadcrumbs.
- Preheat oil in fryer to 160 C.
- Carefully lower chicken pieces into oil—don’t try and do too many together or they’ll clump, and shake the basket a couple of times towards the beginning to help them separate.
- They are ready when the breadcrumb coating is a nice golden shade of brown, not too pale (or chicken is undercooked) and not too dark. We’ve found that the mini fillets we buy from our supermarket are just the right size to cook through perfectly in the time it takes the breadcrumbs to colour nicely.
- Serve with rice and curry sauce.
Alternatively, you could enjoy your katsu chicken with Kewpie mayonnaise (a richer, yolkier Japanese mayonnaise) and tonkatsu sauce, available in Japanese grocery shops.
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