In the UK, the term ‘katsu’ has become commonly associated with Japanese curry sauce, though it actually refers to breaded meat cutlets. And with so many brands having created inaccurately titled katsu curry products, without any hint of the katsu element, there’s been much upset amongst Japanese curry enthusiasts.
Traditionally made using a pork cutlet breaded with panko, katsu curry (or katsukarē) is a classic Japanese dish served with a rich curry sauce, typically served with rice and with the cutlet sliced into strips. Said to have originated at a yōshoku restaurant in Ginza, Tokyo, during 1948, when a regular customer complained about the woes of eating katsu and curry separately, the dish has seen widespread appeal, both in Japan and internationally.
In the UK, chicken katsu curry is by far the most popular example of the dish, with restaurants such as Wagamama bringing its version of the dish to the British masses. Yet in Japan, chicken katsu is generally served with tonkatsu sauce (not unlike brown sauce). As for the accompanying sauce, Japanese curry is typically a little sweeter than Indian curry, which was initially brought to Japan from India during the Meiji era (1868-1912). Originally considered western food, curry began to be served in Japan by the 1870s and has since become a staple of the Japanese diet.
In Japanese homes, instant curry roux is typically used to make katsu curry, with the ease of preparation having contributed to the dish’s popularity. While curry roux blocks and powders are readily available in the UK, a standard curry powder can be used instead, or you could even make your own Japanese-style curry powder especially. The fried katsu element is absolutely essential, however. This recipe uses chicken, but you could also use pork (as is more traditional), or meat-free options such as pumpkin. The sauce also features onions, carrots, ginger, garlic, chicken stock, coconut milk, soy sauce, and just a suggestion of sugar to bring out some sweetness. Serve with rice and fukujinzuke if available.
For the curry powder (alternatively use 2tbsp curry powder, plus 1 tsp turmeric)
- 1 tsp black peppercorns
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp coriander seeds
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- ½ tsp fenugreek
- ½ tsp fennel seeds
- ½ star anise
- 1 bay leaf
- ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
For the curry sauce
- 1 large onion finely diced
- 2 carrots peeled and finely chopped
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 1 thumb-sized piece ginger peeled and grated
- 1 tsp MSG optional
- 65 g plain flour
- 500 ml chicken stock
- 100 ml coconut milk
- 3 tbsp light soy sauce
- 1 tsp sugar
For the chicken katsu
- 2 skinless chicken breasts
- 2 eggs beaten
- 125 g panko breadcrumbs
- Neutral oil for frying
- Sea salt
- Begin by making the curry powder. Add all spices to a clean, dry frying pan and toast over low heat for a few minutes until fragrant, stirring occasionally. Transfer to a spice grinder or pestle and mortar and grind to a fine powder. Any leftover curry powder can be kept for a few months, so it’s also worth scaling up the recipe and making more than you may need.
- To prepare the sauce, heat a splash of oil in a wok or large, heavy-based saucepan and add the onions and the carrot. Season with a pinch of salt and cook over low heat for around 10 minutes, stirring often, until soft and the onions are translucent. Add the garlic and ginger to the pan and increase the heat to medium-high. Cook for 30 seconds or so until fragrant, making sure the garlic doesn’t burn.
- Add 2 tablespoons of the curry powder to the pan alongside the MSG if using and 1 tablespoon of the plain flour. Cook for another minute or two, stirring almost constantly, then slowly pour in the chicken stock and mix to combine. Stir in the coconut milk, add the soy sauce and sugar, then bring to a gentle simmer. Cook over a very low heat for at least 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, while you prepare the chicken katsu.
- To prepare the chicken, cut the breast fillets in half, horizontally, so you have two thin fillets. Coat each fillet in flour and generously season each fillet with salt, then soak each in the beaten eggs. Finally dip the chicken fillets into the panko breadcrumbs and make sure all sides of the chicken are covered.
- Leave the chicken to sit while you heat around 1-2 inches of oil in a high-walled pan (filling it by no more than 2/3). Once hot, add the chicken fillets and fry for a few minutes on each side until golden brown. Cook in batches if necessary to avoid overcrowding the pan.
- At this point, you can optionally strain the curry sauce through a fine mesh sieve.
- Slice the chicken katsu into strips, then serve with the curry sauce and rice.