27 April 2009

Sensory Overload: Karaage Katsu Curry

The Japanese gang bang continued this week, as the other night we made a giant batch of Omid's World Famous™ Japanese Curry.

Now any person with kitchen competence and access to S&B (or similar) curry mix can make a decent Japanese curry. The beauty of it is that, like Lady Gaga, it's a tasty no-brainer that goes down easy. What sets mine apart? Years and years of perfection - that, and I can make a perfect base from scratch. This is actually a wholly unnecessary, time-intensive skill - even the chefs at most curry houses in Japan will use blocks of packaged curry base - but it's important if you like to cook without unpronounceable chemicals, or need to feed some vegan friends who won't eat something with traces of beef stock in it. (Last I checked, a jar of Knorr's didn't moo, hippie.)

All vitriol for air-headed pop tarts and irrational animal-worshippers aside, making your own Japanese curry base isn't that important. What is important is handling the ingredients before they're ever stewed, and then having the patience to let it all slowly simmer and reduce for hours on end. Part of my approach is to season the vegetables (and meat, of course) while it's in the sautée phase - adding garam masala, ginger, garlic, and chili while it's all browning. This ensures that all the chicken/beef/carrots/potatoes/mushrooms/whatever are nicely infused with flavor. Then there's the simmering... Not only do the hours on the stove reduce and thicken the curry, but the starches from the potatoes are released into the mixture, further thickening the stew.

Alannah's gotten a firm handle on my long-and-slow approach and can now tantalize the tongue with the best of them. So it was time to step up the game. To bring OWF™JC to another level. And that level, ladies and gentlemen, is the addition not of a regular old katsu (schnitzel) on top, but a karaage chicken katsu.

Karaage (or kara-age if you need your double-vowels separated for you) is Japanese style fried chicken – though the name pays homage to the Chinese style of frying. The key isn't so much how it's fried, but the fact that the poultry has been marinated in soy, ginger, and garlic. And of course, the not-so-secret ingredient approved by binge drinkers who swear it won't give you a hangover: Sake. I prefer hon-mirin, fortified sake, but any sweet booze will do. 'Cept maybe Schnapps.

The other key to karaage is to fry it coated in a starch (potato, to be exact... but corn is fine in a pinch), but we opted for the more katsu-like egg and panko breadcrumbs to give it a more traditional look and feel. The crunchy panko nooks and crannies perfectly hold microscopic little bits of curry, ready to explode in your mouth with flavor.

The combination of these two ridiculously awesome examples of co-opted Japanese food may seem like a bit much. Overkill, you might say. And it's all the better for it. These are the two most more-ish Japanese dishes there are.

You will keep eating karaage chicken even when you're full. The stuff is often served up in heaps along with beer, and by the time you notice your stomach's distended to the point of rupture, it's too late... and you order another plate.

The curry makes karaage seem like a mere gateway drug, its addictive properties (not quite scientifically) proven to be greater than that of crack, heroin, or reality TV. I have been seen (and probably photographed) licking the last bits of Japanese curry off of plates, hunched over like The Hedgehog going to town on a teenage runaway.

This combination is the speedball of Japanese food.

Which got me thinking... Say we work these two into a new dish involving okonomiyaki... It could be the three-way of a lifetime.

Of course, when this happens, I'll tone down the spice. I reached for a red jar off the spice rack when doing the initial sautée of the curry ingredients. But instead of the usual pissweak French "chili" powder I've grown accustomed to (and using in massive quantities), Alannah went and got the real stuff from an Indian market. Oops. Let's just say I haven't felt this kind of burning since Spring Break was still legal in Palm Springs.

1 comment:

  1. dude? a blog post about your curry and ... no recipe? kindly, hook me the hell up-- and i'll return the favor by mailing you some proper heat-- including an aliquot of the pickled habaneros i've had since 1995.