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Thursday, June 7, 2012

Uomoto Style Karē

Karē (カレー), or curry, is something that surprises a lot of people about Japanese cuisine. When most people think of curry, they think of India.  But karē, as the Japanese call it, is so ingrained in Japanese society, its considered a national dish. One of Mr. Mochi's favorite dishes when we go to Mitsuwa's food court is katsu-karē (カツカレー), which is a pork cutlet with curry and rice.

Karē came to Japan in the Meiji era (1868-1912) via Britain. Since Britain at the time was occupying India and stealing their spices, the British Navy introduced Japan to curry. That's why Japanese curry is more stew-like and sweeter than most curries as it's an adaptation of Britain's adaptation. Ironically, since it was introduced by the British, karē is considered "yoshoku," a western style dish despite it's eastern roots.

Now of course Japanese Americans have brought it here to America, where we tinker with further like we do all good hapa food. I called the title of my post "Uomoto Style Karē" because this is how my grandmother made it before my mother got a hold of it, and then of course, myself.  The beauty of Japanese curry is that it is traditionally not made with any seasonal ingredients so you can make it at any time.  Those traditional vegetables are potatoes, onions and carrots, but you can experiment with throwing in any sort of veggies you feel like, to give this recipe a seasonal spin.

One ingredient I always put in is frozen peas, which puzzled my coworker who is a Japanese food aficionado, so she had to inquire:

"Umm... why does your karē have peas? Karē is supposed to have potatoes, carrots, and onions?"

"Uhhh... I don't honestly know. When I think of homemade karē, I think of peas..."

I asked my mother, and she said the exact same thing as me, when she thinks about homemade curry rice she thinks of peas. Apparently my grandmother would always use peas, so my mom did, and so I do. Honestly I think she used peas because frozen peas are cheap, good quality for a frozen veggie and easy, no peeling or cutting necessary, and my grandmother is very resourceful like that (I like to think of myself resourceful rather than lazy). Regardless, I thought this was interesting enough to share: the way you cook lives on in your family.

Honestly, I rarely make it with potatoes, onions, or carrots. This is the type of recipe I make when there's nothing fresh left in the house and grocery shopping desperately needs to be done. This is the type of recipe I make when it's midnight and I've got five long workdays to go before I get another chance to cook. This is the type of recipe I make for work lunches as it reheats fabulously so it's a great way to fool people into thinking I've got my life together by bringing in a packed homecooked. Little do they know this recipe is so easy as it requires zero prep-work (remember, resourceful not lazy!).

don't let this curry roux fool you, its not hot
This is one of the first hapa foods I can remember cooking. My mom would plunk a pot on the stove, put down a bag of peas, meat, and a roux block (always Golden Curry medium-hot for some reason) and tell me to just follow the instructions on the box as she went off to do something else. Even though in those days there wasn't any English instructions on the back of the boxes like there is now. Once I miscalculated and didn't add enough water in!

what the block looks like
My twist is that I always throw in water chestnuts, because they are also an easy no-prep veggie since you can buy them canned and sliced. Just drain and you're good to go. Plus I happen to think that their crunch adds a nice element usually missing in curry.  And I'm just obsessed with water chestnuts.

Since ease and speed is the name of the game, I made my curry sauce from a premade roux block, like most Japanese do. However, you can make it from scratch, and that is definitely pretty tasty. But this curry is made the Uomoto-style: no chopping veggies, no sourcing ingredients, just clean out your cupboard and freezer.

Uomoto Style Karē

1/2 box curry roux block
1/2lbs of frozen peas (you don't have to thaw these)
1 can of sliced water chestnuts, drained
1/2lbs of frozen cooked and shelled shrimp, tails off and thawed
3 cups water
shiso katsuo ninniku or other tsukemono to garnish

In the bottom of a smallish cooking pot, throw in the peas, shrimp (as you can see, I like the tiny shrimp but it's all down to your preference), and water chestnuts. Pour the water in, and turn heat to high.

It will look soupy, but simmer it!
Once simmering, break the roux block into quarters and turn the heat down to medium. Put the quarters in the pot and stir constantly to melt into the water over (I often mashed them with my wooden spoon to get the chunks of curry roux to dissolve faster). When completely melted, let simmer gently for 5 minutes. Turn off heat, and ladle over rice.

This reheats amazingly well. I take out my bento boxes and tupperwares and use a cup of rice with this spooned over the top of it for karē-raisu, aka curry over rice. Curry rice is normally served with fukujin-zuke (福神漬), a type of Japanese pickles, but I happen to love shiso katsuo ninniku so that's what I paired with mine. Tsukemono just has a nice bite that helps cut through the richness of curry.

When I make this, I often throw in half a onion diced up as well if my fridge and pantry isn't completely empty. It wasn't until I was done cooking that I realized I didn't have any of the traditional ingredients (potato, carrot, onion) in my curry at all.

See Also:
Tonkatsu Kare Donburi
Japanese Curry Turnovers
Kare Tamago Kake Gohan

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