Katsu Curry – Oh Yeah. The Joys of Japanese Comfort Food
Well the New York Times finally got let in on a great big fat Japanese secret. Katsu curry. The secret Japanese comfort food is katsu curry. (For hangovers, try o-chazuke, in my experience – I mean, I have heard it is the best.)
I have my new friend Hiroko Shimbo to thank for letting the cat out of the bag! Well, Hiroko and that Sam Sifton guy. That’s okay, I believe in sharing the love; and food is love, right? Hiroko is so right about this dish. As is the author of the article. It is the comfort food that we seek when we’re spent, hungover, cold, bedraggled, beaten up by the world.
Or, any time we’re hungry. Man, I just want to head over to Porter Square or put my rice cooker on now!
The Katsu and the Curry
As a kid, my mom made this Tonkatsu (the cutlet itself) with pork usually. That was always served with shredded cabbage, sliced tomato and fresh, hot rice. MMM. Oh and the required sauce: Bulldog. Like a cross between A-1 and Ketchup this is a deep brown, sweet and tart condiment that somehow laces all these elements together per-fect-ly.
Curry was made, in our house, from those blocks. I have them in my cabinet, too. (Hope Hiroko’s not reading this!) They’re full of fat and so yummy. I try to use them sparingly. Any common root veg (carrot, potato, onion) and chunks of chicken usually get added to the stew. There was some kind of dark chutney I always enjoyed with it, but never remember to look for.
Hiroko is correct, real curry “from scratch” isn’t so hard to make. Especially a curry like this, which is a pretty simple affair. Katsu on rice bathed in curry – mmm – it’s so evocative of comfort. My mother once had a friend who had grown up with a cook in the house. Consequently, she had never learned to cook herself. Once when she was ill, my mother took her some curry. Just a gesture – and further evidence of curry’s comforting and restorative powers. Her friend was so delighted – that dish was so special to her and she had no idea how simple it would be to make. I remember mom laughing about it, it was curry! S&B from a box!
Researching something much later, I discovered Bento.com (English translation would be lunchbox.com – see sidebar). This site is in English or Japanese and is an excellent introduction to many Japanese food traditions. Reading their katsu recipe, I learned the trick of freezing the cutlets for 20 minutes prior to frying. Don’t know why but it seems to ensure that the resulting cutlets are crispy. Just Hungry publisher Makiko Itoh even gives her own recipe for Japanese style curry powder!
Inarizushi – Just One Non-fish Sushi Option
Another favorite snack and comfort food of sorts is Inarizushi.
If you like teriyaki flavor, imagine it wrapped around a rice ball studded with goodies. There you have an approximation of inarizushi. Abura age – are fried, then simmered in sauce – tofu packets. These are supposed be the favorite of kitsune or foxes, the mediators between man and Inari, the harvest deity.
I learned a new way of stuffing them from my newly inscribed Shimbo book, The Sushi Experience. Hiroko’s recipe is full of Fall flavors, try it for your next Football night. Nuts, raisins, sesame seeds. For my version, I used spicy pistachios, golden raisins, shichimi, and toasted black and white sesame seeds. Those are on the left, while the inarizushi on the right have pickled red ginger.
What are YOUR comfort foods? I want to know!