It’s raining today: there is a typhoon tracking off the east coast of Taiwan. It will miss Taiwan, but coastal cities such as Ilan and Hualien are being pounded by the wind and rain. Thankfully, things in Taipei are not as bad but it is still not fun to be out and about. So it is a perfect opportunity to stay inside and do some cooking.
In Australia, I often made Japanese curry especially in the winter months. It is fantastic Japanese ‘comfort food’. It is delicious served over freshly steamed rice, and even better eaten the next day as leftovers, as a sauce for fried pork cutlets (like schnitzel), or even watered down as a soup base for udon noodles. Pre-packaged Japanese curry sauce is readily available, but I think this homemade version is much nicer. Plus, many of the commercial varieties contain palm oil and MSG.
While this is a Japanese dish (well, sort of — the British imported it to Japan via India) it is incredibly popular in Taiwan as well. At Taiwanese community pot-luck events back in Australia someone always brought along a big pot of Japanese curry, and it was always devoured quickly. And in Taiwan, especially Taipei, there are many ‘Japanese curry’ (日本咖哩 — rìběn kāli) outlets that specialise in this dish. While most physical reminders of Japan’s fifty year colonial rule of Taiwan have long since gone, culinary traces remain with Japanese-adapted food prevalent — especially in home-style cooking.
You can use any curry powder you like, but the result will be more authentic if you use if Japanese curry powder. If not, a mild blend such as madras will work just find. We actually used a generic blend purchased from Taiwanese supermarket chain RT Mart, which is labelled simply as ‘India curry’. (I sent my husband, Sam, on a task to find curry powder. I wasn’t sure if he would be able to locate it or not as there is not much Indian food in Taiwan. But he is an excellent shopper.)
This curry recipe is mild; you can spice it up with additional curry powder and/or cayenne pepper if you want some kick. But I like the blend of flavours as is because it is suitable for all the family. This recipe is quite generous and will make at least two meals (or three if you stretch it out for noodle soup). Be warned: this is addictive.
500 g beef, pork or chicken (Taiwanese often use less)
2 medium or 1 large potato
1/2 tablespoon canola or soybean oil
4 tablespoons butter or oil
4 tablespoons plain flour (all-purpose or medium gluten flour)
2 tablespoons Japanese curry powder (madras or a mild blend is fine)
1 dessertspoon tomato paste, or 1 small tomato, chopped
2 cm ginger, finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, minced
5 cups hot chicken stock
1 teaspoon honey
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 small apple, grated (optional)
Step 1: Add half a tablespoon of oil to a large saucepan or stock pot. Add the ginger and garlic and cook briefly, then add the remaining oil or butter. (The sauce will be richer and glossier if you use butter, but oil also works fine.) Add the flour, and cook for a further minute or two or until browned. Add the curry powder and tomato paste (or diced tomatoes, which is what I used), and continue to cook for a few minutes until the mixture is bubbling and aromatic.
Step 2: Have the hot chicken stock ready and on the boil in a separate saucepan. Gradually add the stock to the bubbling mixture, a small ladleful at a time. You will need to stir constantly as the mixture will expand quickly.
Step 3: Once all the liquid has been incorporated into the sauce, bring to the boil and then add in order a roughly chopped onion, chopped pieces of meat, chopped potato and carrot. Add the soy sauce, honey and grated apple (if using). Cook for 30 minutes or longer until the meat and vegetables are tender. Spoon over freshly cooked short-grain rice and enjoy.