Japanese Chicken and Vegetable Curry with Rice and Quick Cucumber Pickles

published Sep 24, 2021
Japanese Chicken and Vegetable Curry with Rice and Quick Cucumber Pickles Recipe

This veggie-packed, family-friendly recipe from Sonoko Sakai features a homemade curry roux, which is super easy to make and freezes well for future use.

Serves4

Prep20 minutes to 25 minutes

Cook45 minutes to 50 minutes

Jump to Recipe
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curry with rice in bowl
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Anna Stockwell

Ask a Japanese person what their favorite dish to eat at home, school, or work is, and the answer you will most likely hear is karei raisu (curry rice). Year after year, Japanese surveys show karei raisu beating sushi, ramen, pizza, hamburgers, fried chicken, and ramen in popularity among all ages. In fact, the beloved dish is so popular that it was designated the national dish of Japan in 1982, even though it’s not authentically Japanese. I make karei raisu at least once a week, and my family never gets tired of it. It’s delicious, easy to make, nourishing, and quite filling because it’s paired mostly with rice (but you can also serve it with noodles or bread).

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Anna Stockwell

What Is Japanese Curry?

Curry was introduced to Japan during the late 19th century by the English traders and colonists who discovered spices and dishes cooked with spices in India, adapted them to suit their palates, and gave them the generic name “curry.” Japanese curries lean towards the English style of curries, which are made with a roux. It definitely doesn’t resemble the dishes you’ll find in India, but is a curry that stands on its own.

The triad of vegetables most commonly found in Japanese curry are onion, potato, and carrots, but you can use almost any combination of vegetables and protein. Here, I’ve added celery, green beans, and corn to the mix, and use chicken thighs as my protein. I also call for grated apple, which mellows the spices and makes it kid-friendly. After all, Japanese children are some of the biggest fans of karei raisu! Other fruits like pineapple or pear can be used, or if you want to be more adventurous, chop some bananas for a creamy sweet texture.

My Homemade Curry Roux

What’s appealing about Japanese curry is that it can be assembled in no time. The trick that the Japanese use to shorten the cooking time is a curry roux that looks like a chocolate bar or brick. It’s similar in concept to a bouillon cube — you basically drop the curry roux into the broth full of vegetables and protein, and in less than 30 minutes, you have curry on the table.

Most Japanese depend on the store-bought curry roux, as I once did. But now I make my own curry roux, which is super easy and tastes so much better than the store-bought version. It’s made with just three ingredients: curry powder, fat (such as butter), and flour, and you can pour it into a mini loaf pan or muffin tin and store it in the fridge or freezer for months. Anytime you want to make curry, you pop the roux out of the pan and it’s ready to go. It can be a lifesaver for anyone who has to get food on the table in a hurry.

Japanese Chicken and Vegetable Curry with Rice and Quick Cucumber Pickles Recipe

This veggie-packed, family-friendly recipe from Sonoko Sakai features a homemade curry roux, which is super easy to make and freezes well for future use.

Prep time 20 minutes to 25 minutes

Cook time 45 minutes to 50 minutes

Serves 4

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

For the cucumber pickle (optional):

  • 2

    Persian cucumbers, or 1/2 medium English cucumber

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    granulated sugar

  • 1/2

    medium lemon

For the curry roux:

  • 3 tablespoons

    unsalted butter

  • 3 tablespoons

    all-purpose flour

  • 1 tablespoon

    curry powder, preferably S&B or Sonoko

For the curry:

  • 1

    medium carrot (about 3 ounces)

  • 1 large stalk

    celery (about 2 ounces)

  • 1

    medium Yukon Gold, white, or yellow potato (6 to 8 ounces)

  • 1

    medium yellow onion

  • 1 (1 1/2-inch) piece

    fresh ginger

  • 1 clove

    garlic

  • 1 1/2 pounds

    boneless, skinless chicken thighs

  • 2 tablespoons

    vegetable oil, divided, plus more as needed

  • 3 cups

    chicken broth, vegetable broth, or water, plus more as needed

  • 1

    small sweet apple, such as Fuji or Gala (about 7 ounces)

  • 2 tablespoons

    soy sauce, plus more as needed

  • 1 teaspoon

    rice vinegar

  • 1 teaspoon

    kosher salt, plus more as needed

  • Freshly ground black pepper

  • 4 ounces

    fresh green beans

  • 1 ear

    fresh corn, or 1/2 cup fresh thawed frozen corn kernels

  • Serving options: Steamed rice, cooked noodles, or crusty bread

Instructions

Make the cucumber pickle (optional):

  1. Cut 2 Persian (or 1/2 English) cucumbers crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick rounds. Place in a medium bowl and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar. Massage the cucumbers with your fingers until slightly softened and the salt and sugar granules are fully dissolved, 1 to 2 minutes.

  2. Squeeze the juice from 1/2 medium lemon (about 2 tablespoons) over the cucumbers and toss to combine. Refrigerate until ready to serve, or store in an airtight container for up to 4 days.

Make the curry roux:

  1. Melt 3 tablespoons unsalted butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Sprinkle in 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour and stir to combine. Stir gently and constantly, being careful not to scorch the mixture, until the mixture becomes a light blonde color, about 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat. Add 1 tablespoon curry powder and stir until combined.

Make the curry:

  1. Prepare the following, adding each to a medium bowl as you complete it: Peel 1 medium carrot and cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick rounds, trim 1 large celery stalk cut on a crosswise into 1-inch pieces, and peel and cut 1 medium potato into 1-inch chunks.

  2. Halve 1 medium yellow onion. Cut each piece lengthwise into thirds, then cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces. Peel and mince a 1 1/2-inch piece of ginger (about 1 tablespoon). Mince 1 garlic clove. Pat 1 1/2 pounds chicken thighs dry with paper towels, then cut into 1-inch chunks.

  3. Heat 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until beginning to soften and lightly brown, about 2 minutes.

  4. Push the onion to the edges of the pot. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon vegetable oil to the center of the pot, then add the chicken to the center of the pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the chicken goes from pink to white but isn’t fully cooked, 2 to 3 minutes. Sprinkle in the ginger and garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. If the chicken is sticking to the bottom of the pot, add 1 tablespoon vegetable oil more.

  5. Add the carrots, celery, and potato. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 1 to 2 minutes. Add 3 cups broth or water and carefully scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Bring the liquid to a simmer. Meanwhile, peel 1 small apple and grate on the large holes of a box grater.

  6. Add the grated apple and the curry roux to the pot and stir until the roux is dissolved. Add 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 1 teaspoon rice vinegar, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and season with black pepper. Stir to combine and return to a simmer.

  7. Reduce the heat to medium or medium-low to maintain a gentle simmer. Simmer until the vegetables are tender but aren’t falling apart, about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, trim 4 ounces green beans and cut into 1-inch pieces. If using fresh corn on the cob, cut the kernels from 1 ear until you have 1/2 cup corn kernels.

  8. At this point, our curry should be slightly thickened but still pourable. If it’s too thick, add more water or broth as needed, and return to a simmer. Add the green beans and corn, stir to combine, and simmer until the green beans are tender, about 10 minutes more. Taste for season with more soy sauce and kosher salt as needed. The curry should be rich and delicious with a balance among the 5 tastes (sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami).

  9. Serve immediately over rice, noodles or with crusty bread, with the cucumber pickles on the side.

Recipe Notes

Substitutions:

  • Peeled, grated Asian pear can be used in place of the apple.
  • For a vegan or vegetarian alternative, replace the butter with coconut oil and the chicken with tofu.
  • For a gluten-free version, season with tamari instead of soy sauce and make the roux with mochiko rice flour instead of all-purpose! The roux will not form into a paste the same way, but once added to the broth, the rice flour will thicken the broth much like the flour does.

Make ahead:

  • The curry roux is excellent to make ahead in batches and keep on hand in the fridge or freezer. Multiply the roux recipe as desired (3 tbsp butter, 3 tbsp flour, 1 tbsp Japanese curry powder), make in one big batch all together, and then pour the roux into the cavities of a muffin tin to firm up. Be sure to divide evenly among the cavities and divide only into as many cavities as you multiplied the recipe for. Refrigerate or freeze until firm, about 1 hour or overnight, and then remove from the mold. Wrap airtight in plastic or wax paper. Refrigerate for up to 1 month or freeze for up to 4 months.
  • The cucumber pickles can be made and refrigerated in an airtight container up to 3 days ahead.
  • The full recipe can be made ahead of time and stored in the fridge to be reheated and served. The curry will thicken with refrigeration. To reheat, transfer to a pot on the stove, loosen with about 1/2 cup room-temperature water, stir to combine, and allow to come to a simmer. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking, but be careful not to break apart the tender vegetables.

Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days.