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Japanese tomato curry, shio koji chicken, mushroom-kombu rice

Curry is a staple in Japan, it is found in small dry packages in the store that just need to be rehydrated like the many versions of ramen. However, the best versions are found in small streetside kiosks or specialized curry shops across the cities. It is probably the most underrated food in Japan, and yet such a major part of their cuisine.

A master in the history of Japanese curry is Harry Hakuei Kosato who describes the history of Japanese curry in the article here. Curry is one of the national dishes of Japan, reinstates Kosato, who was very recently recognised as the Japanese Cuisine Goodwill Ambassador for India by Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries (MAFF). He adds, “It goes back to the year 1871 when a Japanese boy on a ship going to the US tasted curry onboard. He was the first Japanese to have tried curry, though it was the westernised version recreated by the British.” There was no turning back and today curry has spread with innumerable variations across Japan. I had the fortune to make this curry for Harry at my house recently.

Japanese curry powder also called "kare ko", is a blend of mild spices with a hint of chilli. The first version of this curry powder was made by a company called Hache in 1905, but today S&B kare ko, the one I use, is the predominant curry powder in the market.

The Japanese version of the curry is different from the Indian cousin in its flavours, it is beautifully balanced and mild, versus the Indian spice bomb. There is art in making a good Japanese curry, the spices need to be in perfect harmony, the spices mild and the flavours a symphony on your palate.

This curry is absolutely amazing. Soft, delicate and lovely symphony of flavours. The mushroom-kombu rice is earthy and delicate and compliments the tart and spiced notes of the curry. The "umami" chicken tops the dish, also very delicate with a characteristic taste of caramelised shio koji. This dish came together very well, it is one of those amazing dishes for those special occasions.

Donabe is a specialized cookbook on Japanese clay pot cooking. In Donabe, Tokyo native and donabe professional Naoko Moore presents a wide array of Japanese home-style dishes, along with intriguing stories, useful information and tips about donabe. Donabe represents Naoko’s passion, experience, and knowledge about the art and this book is packed with lovely recipes, photographs and cooking tips.

For more recipes from this lovely cookbook, click here.


For the rice:

1 dried shiitake mushroom, soaked in 1 cup of hot water for 30 minutes

1-inch square kombu

2 cups sushi rice

Water, salt, to taste

For the shio chicken:

6 boneless chicken thighs

3 tablespoons shio koji liquid

For the curry:

3 tablespoons butter

1 1/2 teaspoons cumin seeds

1 large onion, finely diced

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 bay leaf

1 1/2 tablespoons of ginger paste

2 tablespoons Japanese curry powder

1 teaspoon chilli powder

2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into small bite-sized pieces

8 tomatoes, finely diced

Salt, to taste

Sugar, as needed

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1 cup water

1 teaspoon fish sauce or soy sauce

1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

Mix the chicken thighs with the shio koji well and marinate in the fridge for 24 hours.

To make the rice, squeeze out the water from the mushroom, keeping the soaking liquids, and chop it into minute bits.

Strain the soaking liquids to get rid of any grit and bring to a boil with the mushroom bits. Turn off the heat and add the kombu piece and allow to soak for 5 minutes. Remove the kombu.

Make the rice in either a rice cooker or a pot. Add the mushroom-kombu stock and top up with additional water as needed. Set the cooked rice aside.

Meanwhile, to make the curry, heat the butter and add cumin seeds and fry for 30 seconds. Add the onions and garlic and sauté on low heat till the onions are a heavy brown, about 10 minutes. Add the bay leaf and give a quick toss.

Add the ginger paste and sauté for 30 seconds till the ginger is aromatic and no longer smells raw. Add the curry paste, and chilli powder and give a quick turn crumbling the curry powder into a smooth paste. Add the sweet potatoes and fry till they are coated in the spices, 3-4 minutes. Be careful to do these steps on low heat or you will burn the onions and spices.

Add the tomatoes, salt, sugar, pepper, and water and cook for 20 minutes. Add the fish sauce and cook for n additional 10 minutes. The tomatoes should be completely broken down and the sweet potatoes are cooked through. Mix in the vinegar and taste for spices, salt and curry. The sauce should be delicate yet flavourful.

Preheat the oven to 375° F.

Wrap the chicken in individual packages with parchment paper. Bake in a single layer for 25 minutes. Check a piece to make sure the chicken is cooked through and tender.

Heat the rice and spoon a large tablespoon onto a bowl. Add 1/2 cup of the heated tomato curry around the rice and top with the chicken. Serve immediately.

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