I know it’s been a while since this wee Catgirl invited all you Gentle Visitors into her kitchen for a peek over my shoulder as I work my kitchen magic to whip up something tasty, but… as I’ve promised myself that I should try to post more often here at the Litterbox… and… since I’ve finally managed to combine my love of fruity, spicy curry with something taken from the culinary traditions of my ancestral homeland, it seemed fitting to take an evening to tell all you Gentle Visitors all about it.
Yep… although at first glance, this wee kitten looks like the typical Japanese woman, most people are surprised at just how little of that ancient heritage this Catgirl actually possesses. Dark hair and almond eyes aside… I’m very much more an All-American girl than an Asian one. Growing up in California, I honestly ate more BBQ chicken, burgers, and hotdogs than anything strictly Japanese. My Dad had never gained an appreciation for such fare during his time in Okinawa, and my Mom was more than happy to let us eat at restaurants rather than spend any real time in the kitchen herself. Nope… not really interested in the culinary arts at all was my Mom. To this day I still can’t believe that despite that upbringing, this somewhat goofy lady actually ended up a cook… and that I actually enjoy my time in the kitchen. Go figure….
Now… after all these years… my tastes have broadened from the limited cuisine of my childhood to embrace some pretty exotic fare indeed. One thing seems consistent… if it’s hot, spicy, and sweet…. no matter what…. I just absolutely love it. Really…. Can’t get enough.
Curry. Now that’s definitely this wee Catgirl’s greatest weakness. Carolyn swears I could eat it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner if I could. (Hmmmm? “Fruity Curry Puffs”? Sounds like a breakfast cereal to me… ) Sure it’s mostly known as an Indian staple, but guess what? It’s really big in Japan too.
Blame the British Empire for that… and the Royal Navy in particular.. for bringing curry spices to Meiji Japan from their Indian colonial empire. In any event.. it wasn’t long before it became a pretty big hit in the Land of the Rising Sun too. Today… curry has spread to just about every part of Japan and in a dozen or so regional versions is one of their favorite fast food choices. As with many things adopted by the Japanese, they did put their own particular slant to it along the way. Mostly in the way curry itself is prepared. Here in the US, when you say “curry” to most people they instantly think of “Curry Powder”… that turmeric rich yellow spice blend that is the dumbed down American equivalent of Garam Masala. In Japan on the other-hand, curry is usually encountered as a pre-made spice roux that is used to season and thicken their version of curry sauce.
Katsu Karē is one of those regional Japanese curry dishes… and I actually did have it growing up on the occasions that my Grandma prepared a meal for us now and again. It’s basically a breaded pork cutlet, pan fried and served with rice and curry sauce over the top. Simple, eh? It was one of the very few Japanese dishes my Dad would eat, being close to Southern chicken fried steak with curry instead of gravy.
From what I remember, it came with a slightly darker color and sweeter, less pungently spicy flavor than the curry I usually eat today. Unfortunately Lil’ Miyuki never asked Grandma what exactly was in that sauce, so the secret has passed along with Grandma to that great Kitchen in the Sky, but… this wee Catgirl is anything if not persistent when it comes to recipes so with the recent discovery of some boneless pork chops on sale at our local supermarket and the knowledge that I had some imported Thai Jasmine rice along with some boiled potatoes from a couple of days earlier it seemed appropriate to give Grandma’s long lost Katsu Karē recipe another try. I didn’t get it exactly right… yet again… (Sorry Grandma… d’ohh!!) but it was certainly fun trying to puzzle it out once more… and pretty darn tasty too.
So…. There are three parts to this meal. The breaded pork. Although you could use about any decent cut of pork for this, I used 6 oz. boneless pork chops, lean and with just a hint of fat along one edge, lightly dredged in flour and then breaded with Panko. You could certainly use regular seasoned breadcrumbs for this if you have them and they will work, the Panko will work better if you can get it, frying crisper and absorbing a lot less oil when you pan fry these to start with. I do that in a shallow pan on medium high heat, just enough to crisp and brown that breading before transferring these to a shallow baking pan to finish them in the oven at 350ºF. It’s pork… so remember to let them cook thoroughly until flaky and white and completely done. Nobody wants trichinosis…
Next… while your pork is baking to completion you can whip up your favorite rice, in my case, some wonderful Thai Jasmine rice, much longer grained and fragrant that the short translucent grained traditional Japanese uruchimai rice. Mmmmmm!! I jazz it up a bit by substituting a little chicken broth for the water I cook it in and add a few green scallions, but trust me it’s just yummy and wonderful all on it’s own.
Now… while your rice is cooking away, and your chops are just about done it’s time for the curry. Eeeeeehhh!! Now this is the fun part…
Japanese curry sauces are usually sweeter and a bit on the mild side compared to the Indian and Malay styled curry I usually like, so like as not what I’m about to describe is far spicier than the traditional dish… Too bad, Neko likes em’ hot!!
In a saucepan I start with a good handful of diced onion and sliced carrots along with a couple of cloves of minced garlic, a knuckle of grated fresh ginger (maybe a ⅓ of a tsp. of ground ginger if fresh is unavailable), a dash of black pepper and salt and let them fry until the onions are translucent, the carrots soft, the garlic slightly browned and the ginger fragrant. Then add about 8 oz. of ground beef and brown it till it’s crumbled and done. Add a ½ cup of beef stock, 4 oz. of apple juice, 2 tbsp. of soy sauce, 2 tsp. of brown sugar, and …. wait for it… a good dollop of tomato ketchup. (You could use a couple tbsp of tomato paste instead, but this wee kitten likes the vinegary edge ketchup lends…) Let the mixture reduce, stirring often as it thickens. Add a good tablespoon (or 2 if you reeeeeaaaly like curry… ) of Garam Masala or curry powder and just a splash of sriracha hot pepper sauce to taste. Once the flavors have all blended and the sauce has reduced a bit, mix up a simple flour slurry to thicken the results to the consistency you’d like. Get it too thick? Add a wee bit more beef stock till it gets where you want it. Once hot, add in the diced cooked potatoes, maybe an apple or two chunked up to the same bite sized dice along with some finely diced raisins. Now you are talking!!
To serve, add a big base of yummy rice, lay your breaded pork chop on top, whole or sliced, and top with that spicy sauce. “Easy peasy Japanesey!”
Mine ends up chunkier than Grandma’s was, and I’m certain hers was less of a meat sauce than mine, but overall I was happy with my version this time out. Still… practice makes perfect, and if I keep at it who knows? Maybe next time out I’ll hit it.
So anyways…. that our nostalgic food trip this time out. Till next time we meet again, “Meow, meow for now!!”