How to Make the Perfect Japanese Curry Brick
Sweet, spicy, and loaded with umami, Japanese curry was adapted from its Indian counterpart using spices that were brought to Japan by the British, and over the years, has become a ubiquitous comfort dish, often served with a side of rice or katsu. Home cooks can find Japanese curry bricks at most Asian grocery stores, but the savory, bouillon-like cubes can also be made completely from scratch, sans any preservatives—and in batches that can keep for weeks. Here, the writer, teacher, and cook Sonoko Sakai shares her homemade curry brick recipe, from her recently published cookbook, Japanese Home Cooking (Roost Books).
Japanese Curry Brick
Most Japanese cooks rely on prepared curry bricks to make curry. These are basically blocks of seasoned roux—the shape of a chocolate bar—made of spices (including turmeric, coriander, cumin, and fennel), salt, flour, and butter that can be dissolved in water to make an instant curry sauce. My brick is on the mild side, so if you like it spicier, add the cayenne pepper. To make your curry block gluten-free, chickpea flour is a good alternative that is used in Indian curries. If using chickpea flour, it will be soupy in consistency. You can add a tablespoon of mochiko (glutinous rice flour) diluted with equal amounts of water to thicken the curry.
One curry brick in this recipe makes about three batches of Japanese-style curry. You can break up the brick into three pieces and store it in the refrigerator. This recipe makes more curry powder than you will need for the brick. You can use the remaining powder to sprinkle on vegetables and salads or save it for the next batch of brick.
Makes 1 curry brick
For the curry powder:
1 tbsp. brown or black mustard seeds
1 2-inch (5 cm.) piece of cinnamon stick, broken into small pieces
1 bay leaf
2 to 3 cardamom pods
1 tbsp. coriander seeds
1 tbsp. fennel seeds
1 tbsp. cumin seeds
1 tsp. fenugreek seeds
½ tsp. whole cloves
1½ tsps. black peppercorns
1 tsp. sweet paprika
1 tbsp. ground ginger
1 tbsp. ground turmeric
1 tbsp. sea salt
1 tsp. cayenne pepper (or more to taste)
For the roux:
½ cup (1 stick/115 g.) unsalted butter
⅔ cup (70 g.) all-purpose flour or chickpea flour
In a medium skillet, toast mustard seeds, cinnamon, bay leaf, cardamom pods, coriander seeds, fennel seeds, cumin seeds, fenugreek seeds, and cloves over medium heat, stirring until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat.
Transfer the toasted spices to a spice grinder, add the peppercorns, and grind at the highest speed for 30 seconds. Shake the grinder a couple of times to make sure the cinnamon stick is pulverized. Sift the ground spices through a fine-mesh strainer set over a bowl. Add the paprika, ginger, turmeric, salt, and cayenne, if using. You will have ⅔ cup (50 g.) of the ground spice mix.
To make the curry brick, put the butter in a medium nonstick skillet and place over medium-high heat. When the butter is nearly melted, turn the heat to low. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until the roux turns light brown, 15 to 20 minutes, being careful not to let it burn. Add ⅓ cup (36 g.) of the curry powder and mix well. Transfer the seasoned roux to a small container or a mini aluminum loaf pan measuring 5¼ × 3½ × 2 inches (14.5 × 8.5 × 5 cm.). Let stand at room temperature until the roux is set, about 3 hours. But you can start using the curry brick in liquid form if you wish to make curry right away.
To store, take the curry brick out of the container and wrap in parchment paper or plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator for up to 1 month or in the freezer for up to 3 months.
Republished with permission from Roost Books.