My Japanese chicken curry is an easy weeknight version filled with tender chicken and sweet root vegetables in a savory thick sauce.
When it comes to comfort food, we love making Japanese curry. My Japanese chicken curry is an easy weeknight version filled with tender chicken, carrots, potatoes, and sweet potatoes in a savory thick sauce. Making the curry from scratch versus the box requires an extra 10 minutes for the homemade roux instead of using the store bought version but it’s so worth it. I loved how flavorful and fragrant the spices imbued the sauce compared to the premade roux.
History of Japanese Curry
Unlike what people would think, curry was not introduced to Japanese via India, Thailand, Malaysia, or anywhere else associated with curry. Curry arrived in Japan in the 1870s via the Brits with their curry powder C&B brand. Initially, Japanese didn’t respond to the British style curry because it was a soupy version meant to be sopped up with bread. When the Japanese navy and army adapted the curry in the early twentieth century with the sailors and soldiers returning home and bringing this new version that made it wildly popular.
What is Japanese Curry
The classic Japanese curry or kare, has onions, carrots, potatoes, and apple as a sweetener or another fruit to add sweetness. Sweet and mild in flavor, and thickened with a spiced roux, it resembles a stew to be enjoyed with their staple starch-rice. It was originally made with beef but many versions now exist with different proteins.
- Carrots: look for young, firm, bright orange carrots with healthy peels. Avoid carrots that seem dry, have small roots or crack, and feel lifeless. To prepare the carrots, simply chop off the green parts, wash them under cold water, and gently scrub them using a brush to remove as much dirt as possible. Organic grown carrots can be eaten unpeeled. If you’re short on time, peeling the skin is more efficient than scrubbing them.
- Potato: use any potatoes you like. Over the years I've come to love the taste of red potatoes and found it worked well for this recipe.
- Sweet potato: look for sweet potatoes with tight skin and firm flesh, without wrinkles, cuts, or bruises. My family loves sweet potatoes so I added them to the recipe. I usually buy the Japanese or Korean sweet potatoes which tend to be sweeter than other varieties. Do not substitute sweet potatoes with yam.
- Ginger: for this recipe I used fresh ginger. Fresh ginger is less fibrous and more tender and flavorful compared to ground ginger. Peel off the outer skin with a paring knife and use a ginger grater.
- Curry powder: for the curry, I used a curry powder that I use to make Vietnamese chicken curry. It is mild in flavor and often found at the Asian grocery stores.
- Garam masala: is a blend of spices originating from India. My favorite blend is from Spicewalla with nutmeg, clove, cinnamon, black Peppercorn, cumin Seed, and green cardamom. Different versions exists so feel free to use your favorite one.
- Honey: I used honey as a sweetener for this recipe because the apples I had were beyond their use. Feel free to substitute with a sweet apple like Fuji or your favorite variety.
- For protein, feel free to use pork, beef, or lamb.
- For a vegetarian option, eliminate the chicken and add more vegetables.
- For the vegetables, I've used cauliflower, parsnip, kabocha squash, and red kuri squash.
- For the spices, if you want to make your own blend, try the spice blend from Dan Gritzer on Serious Eats.
What Kind of Chicken to Use
For the curry, I like using boneless chicken thighs because they tend to be fattier and yield more flavor compared to the breast. Cut them into 1.5 inch pieces or slightly larger. They will shrink as they cook in the broth.
How to Cut the Carrot Rangiri Style
Japanese chicken curry has a signature of carrot cut rangiri style. Rangiri is a cutting technique to cut uneven vegetables such as carrots, lotus, or burdock into uniform pieces. It consists of cutting the vegetable at an angle, roll a one-quarter turn, cut again, the repeat. The large, evenly cut surfaces allow for faster cooking and absorption of flavor.
How to Make the Roux
The roux is a simple mixture of butter, all purpose flour, curry powder, garam masala, and broth. Melt the butter in a saucepan on low heat until lightly browned. Whisk in the flour and whisk constantly until they blend together. Add in the spices until they release their fragrance. Add in half a cup of liquid from the simmering broth and whisk until it thickens. Add the roux mixture into the simmering broth.
How to Make the Curry
- Marinate the chicken with salt and pepper
- Prepare all the root vegetables
- Brown the chicken on both sides and remove them from pan
- Saute the onion until translucent
- Add ginger and garlic and cook for a few more minutes until fragrant
- Return chicken to the pan
- Add potatoes, sweet potatoes, salt, and water
- Bring everything to a boil over high heat then turn it down to medium low to simmer
- Add 20 minutes, make the roux
- At 30 minutes, add the roux and carrots into the simmering broth. The carrots were cut smaller than the potatoes so I added them in later than the potatoes. If you cut the carrot and potatoes the same size, add all the root vegetables at the beginning
- Continue simmering for another 20 minutes until all the vegetables are tender
What to Serve Curry With
Japanese chicken curry is traditionally served with steamed white rice. Sometimes I add in extra root vegetables because the kids like to eat the curry by itself.
You can make this Japanese chicken curry up to 3 days ahead of time and store it covered in the refrigerator. It might thicken in the fridge. Add a little bit of water to thin it to the consistency you desire. Reheat in the microwave or in a saucepan on the stove.
Japanese Chicken Curry (Kare Raisu)
- 1.5 pounds boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1.5 inch pieces
- 3 teaspoons Diamond Crystal kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 6-oz white onion, finely diced
- 2 cloves of garlic, grated
- ½ tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
- 3 medium carrots (about 10 oz), cut rangiri style
- 4 red potatoes (about 10 oz), cut into 1 inch pieces
- 2 small Japanese sweet potatoes (about 10 oz), cut into 1 inch pieces
- 3 cups water
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons all purpose flour (can substitute with potato starch)
- 1 tablespoon mild curry powder
- 1 tablespoon garam masala
- Marinate chicken with 1 teaspoon of salt and pepper for an 1 hour in refrigerator.
- Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add chicken and brown on both sides, about 5-7 minutes. Remove the chicken from the pan.
- Decrease heat to medium. Add onion and let it cook until fragrant, about 3 minutes.
- Add garlic and ginger and cook until soften, about 2 minutes.
- Transfer chicken back to pan. Add potatoes and sweet potatoes, remaining salt, and water. Bring to a boil over high heat.
- Once the liquid reaches a boil, turn it down to medium-low heat and let everything simmer for 30 minutes.
- At the twenty minute mark, make the roux. To make the roux, heat the butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. When the butter starts to foam, add the flour. Stir frequently for 2-3 minutes or until the mixture has darkened slightly.
- Stir through the curry powder and garam masala. Cook for 2-3 minutes until the spices release their fragrance.
- Ladle half a cup of cooking liquid into the roux and whisk until well combined. Transfer the roux into the simmering liquid.
- Add the carrots and let everything simmer for 20-25 minutes until all the vegetables are tender and sauce thickened.
- Whisk in honey and season with additional salt to taste.
- Remove the chicken curry from heat and serve with steamed rice.