The DIY Japanese Curry Kit That's Saving My Weeknight Dinners
Japanese curry is a wondrous thing: The sauce is silky smooth, slightly sweet, gently spiced, and completely addictive. To make it at home, most people turn to the curry-roux "bricks" you'd find at Japanese groceries, which resemble overgrown bouillon cubes. They are also wondrous things—add one or two bricks to a pan of sautéed meat and vegetables, and, as someone far more resourceful than me once said, you've got a stew going.
But while reading Sonoko Sakai's amazing cookbook, Japanese Home Cooking, one particular recipe intrigued me—how to make DIY curry roux at home. She promises an even more vibrant taste (along with a lack of preservatives and additives found in the store-bought stuff), but the long list of ingredients—over 14 whole and ground spices!—made me hesitate. With a toddler at home, I didn't feel up for a weekend project.
Everything changed when I discovered through a Diaspora Co. Spices newsletter that Sakai had begun packaging her own DIY Japanese curry kits, including all of the spices, from cardamom and cloves to fenugreek and fennel. Suddenly, an intimidating project became an achievable endeavor. And curry bricks shifted from an occasional store-bought indulgence to a full-on lifestyle. Sakai describes Japanese curry as "nourishing and delicious survival food for all." Friends, this is the truth.
The process of making curry bricks with this kit is as delightful as a home science experiment: You tear open the beautifully designed packet and toast the whole spices you find inside in a skillet until fragrant, then add the morsels of dried shiitake mushroom and kombu seaweed that come with and blitz them to a fine powder in a spice grinder. Then you pour that fragrant, freshly ground blend into a bowl and stir in the packet of pre-measured ground spices (ones that don't need to be toasted), including plenty of Diaspora Co. turmeric.
Then it was time to make the bricks. I heated 3 sticks of butter in a skillet until melted. Then I added some flour and stirred the roux until it turned light brown—about 15 minutes of meditative, non-frenetic stirring. Then came the best part: Adding the bowl of fresh curry powder and mixing it in. The heat of the roux instantly bloomed the spices, releasing an aroma that was much, much fresher and more vibrant than anything I had tasted in a Japanese curry before.
Finally, I poured that lovely curry roux into molds and chill them to form "bricks." Sakai calls for three mini-loaf pans, but since I rarely bake minis of banana bread, I poured the roux into some silicone broth cube molds I had on hand. It worked like a charm—after letting the roux cool and chilling it in the fridge, the bendy silicone sides made it easy to pop out the blocks of roux. Then all I had to do was cut them into my desired portion size (one DIY curry kit makes 36 servings of curry, so if you usually cook four servings for dinner, you'll end up with about 8 curry bricks). That's eight dinners I know will require minimal thought from me.
Just like store-bought curry roux, these DIY bricks transform into curry in a flash. Sakai includes a handy recipe card for a simple Japanese chicken curry using her roux. Basically, you just saute chopped onion and minced garlic and ginger with bite-size vegetables (a great way to clear out whatever's in your fridge) and chicken chunks. When everything is lightly cooked, you add broth, a touch of soy sauce, sake or white wine, and one of your very own curry bricks. Simmer it down until thickened but not too thick, and pair with some rice that you remembered to put into the Instant Pot at the last minute. Then you'll thank Sakai, just like I did, for bringing something so easy, so special, and so satisfying within reach.
The Curry Brick Kit for Making Japanese Curry, $16 at sonokosakai.com