I've been making curry with roux for longer than I can even remember and this post is pretty much my life's research. I wanna share some tips on how to make the ULTIMATE Japanese style curry using roux. Bring your homemade curry to restaurant level with these tips!
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Japanese Curry Rice
It’s safe to say that Japanese curry rice or "kare raisu" (カレーライス) is one of the most popular dishes in Japan. It is eaten and enjoyed at home, in restaurants, diners and takeaways. I've gotta say, Japanese curry rice is a true comfort dish for me!
It's pretty easy to make too, especially if you have the premade roux in a box. In fact, Japanese curry roux is so tasty, you can't really fail... but why stop at tasty? Why not make it the best it can be? I'll be sharing secret tips and ingredients to help you make the best curry you've ever made!
A Brief History of Japanese Curry
First, let's learn a little bit about how Japanese curry came to be. Curry rice surely has an interesting history. As most people probably already know, curry originated from India, the land of spice. It then traveled to U.K. and then made its way from the U.K. to Japan!
Yep that's right, Japanese curry is based on the U.K's version of curry. Japanese curry rice is not so spicy compared to its Indian counterparts, it’s also quite sweet and thick like a stew.
I love how curry has travelled around the world picking up new styles and flavours on its way.
Japanese Curry Ingredients
A basic Japanese curry rice usually uses 4 main ingredients:
- Meat (Beef, Pork, Chicken or Seafood)
That's not to say that you can't swap these for other ingredients. Things like cauliflower, brocolli, green beans, shimeji mushrooms, okra, aubergine, sweet potato and bell peppers are also great additions or substitutes.
When it comes to protein of choice, I'd say that beef and chicken are most common, however pork and seafood curries are also well loved in Japan.
Although you are not limited to these options, for best results I recommend:
- Beef - Shoulder
- Chicken - Thigh
They're a bit fatty so they add more flavour to the curry. Just make sure to brown them first as this helps improve flavour, texture and crisp up the fat/skin. (If you don't crisp up the fat and skin before adding the liquid then it will become rubbery when boiling.)
Curry is also a great way to use leftover meat too. If you're using meat that is already cooked you can add it to the broth at the same time as the curry roux.
Choosing the Roux
The chocolate bar shaped Japanese curry roux comes in lots of varieties, so here are some things that are useful to know.
Levels of Spice
There are 3 main levels of curry roux in Japan ranging from sweet and mild to hot and spicy. Here are the symbols that you need to look out for.
- 甘口 (amakuchi) - Sweet, mild and even kids can eat it with ease. Not really spicy at all. Usually labeled as level 1-2.
- 中辛 (chuukara) - A little spicy but still pretty easy to handle. Usually labelled Level 3 in spiciness.
- 辛口 (karakuchi) - Hot and spicy curry roux will usually be labelled as level 4,5 or 6, with 6 being the spiciest. Great for spice lovers.
If you're not sure, I'd say sticking with the middle option is always a safe bet.
Curry Roux Brands
There are so many different brands to choose from that it can be overwhelming, especially if you're in a Japanese supermarket or shopping online.
Read more about the characteristics of these brands below.
As far as I know, Golden Curry by S&B is the brand that is the most accessible outside Japan. I even saw it in Sainsbury's (U.K. supermarket chain) when I lived in England.
- Aroma of different spices (many people in Japan say Golden Curry has the nicest aroma)
- Spicier than normal Japanese curry
- Rich flavour
I've always known Vermont Curry by House as the curry with the apple and honey on the package. As you can expect, Vermont Curry is sweeter than the others and smells a bit sweet too.
- Sweet flavour and smell
- Lighter in colour
- Kid friendly
Even though it might not be as accessible as the two above, Java Curry has always been my favourite. It's known as the spicy brand and their products have many different spice levels. The one in the picture above is the spiciest curry by Java.
- Spicy and hot
- Rich and sharp
- Slightly sour
Other brands available in Japan
There are many other curry roux brands available in Japan such as:
- Kokumaro Curry (こくまろカレー): Rich and creamy (medium and hot available on Amazon)
- Dinner Curry (ディナーカレー): Elegant (mild/sweet, medium and hot available on Dokodemo)
- Premium Juku Curry (プレミアム熟カレー): Complex flavour (mild, medium and hot available on Dokodemo)
- Zeppin Rich and spicy (medium available on Dokodemo)
- S&B Curry Prince (カレーの王子さま) Especially for kids, sweet and mild taste (available on Dokodemo)
Why I always mix different brands?
Even though each product has so many different spices, I always mix at least 2-3 different brands. Why? I don't have logical explanation to it, but I truly believe that one secret of good Japanese curry is jumbling all the different flavours to a certain degree.
I usually try to mix at 2-3 different spice levels (Sweet, Medium, Spicy) because that way, you can get sweet apple and honey flavour from a mild one like Vermont and also complex spiciness and heat from brands like Java.
Mixing brands is actually a common thing you can see in ordinary Japanese home cooking as well. If you use one brand and stick to the instructions, your curry won't be unique.
Complexity is a key.
For this recipe I mixed 2 cubes of golden curry (medium), 2 cubes of Java (hot) and 2 cubes of Vermont (sweet).
If you want to experiment with different brands, I highly recommend these bundles on Amazon.
Next day curry is better? (Myth?)
What every Japanese family knows about curry is, “Second day curry is the best curry” meaning Japanese curry tastes better next day than on the day it's cooked.
As a Japanese person myself, I personally think that is true.
Well, well I did a bit of research and found a scientific reason for that.
Why is it better?
Over night, the ingredients (vegetables and meat) in curry start to give out “Umami (Glutamic acid)” as well as fructose, starch, fibre…etc
So it generally builds up depth of flavour and thickness over night, it also becomes richer. That’s why it’s better to eat it the next day if you can wait! Or eat it twice in two days and compare the difference…
Secret tips for making Japanese curry (Surprise Ingredients)
Using only curry roux cubes makes great curry for sure, but using secret ingredients with roux cubes make pro curry and rice.
In fact, did you know most restaurants serving curry rice do not actually make curry from scratch. They actually use roux cubes too! So what makes them special compared to home cooked curry? The answer is in the secret ingredients.
I'll give you some ideas of secret ingredients that improve the taste of home cooked curry rice. Using different secret ingredients every time and then see how's different from last time!
This is a pretty recent discovery for me. I always add onions to curry (despite not being a huge fan of onions myself haha) and I always thought that frying them until softened is enough. That is until I tried adding "caramelized onions" and it was a game changer!
Whether you have Japanese curry roux or not, caramelized onions will add a rich, gravy like taste to your curry as well as improve the colour. It's time consuming, but it's worth putting in that time to level up your curry. I've included steps on how to caramelize onions in the recipe below.
- Timing: 40 mins
- Amount: 1.5 - 2 onions
- Recommended: Someone who wants depth of flavour
- Effect: Richer more gravy like taste, deepens the brown colour
This one is kind of understandable, isn't it?
A small amount of chocolate will make the curry richer. It's a secret ingredient so don't put too much though!
- Timing: After the roux has melted
- Amount: 2-3g
- Recommended: Someone who's not good with spice
- Effect: Softening the spiciness
Instant coffee Powder
Whenever I make curry and rice with roux cubes, I make sure to add instant coffee.
It definitely contributes to a richer taste!
- Timing: After the roux has melted
- Amount: 2 tsp
- Recommended: Someone who wants deeper and richer taste
- Effect: Richen the curry
This is another secret ingredient that I use regularly.
It will add a nice punch too the roux and give it a little bit of European stew taste.
- Timing: Same time as water
- Amount: Substitute 10% of water amount (so this recipe would be 720ml water 80ml wine)
- Recommended: Someone who wants to add some sourness
- Effect: Making it more refreshing, adds a touch of sourness
I personally add a bit of soy sauce every time. I usually use Japanese brand Kikkoman.
As you can guess, it will add a bit more umami and Japanese taste to the curry!
- Timing: Right before the roux cubes
- Amount: 1 tbsp
- Recommended: Someone who wants to add Japanese/Wafu taste
- Effect: Making it more Japanesey / adding umami
This is a popular addition but I personally don't use it as I don't like curry being too sour.
But if you want to add tomato's sourness, you can add any of these tomato products. But be careful with tomato puree, a little goes a long way and adding too much can make it too tomato-y. (Speaking from my experience)
- Timing: When you add the vegetables
- Amount: 1 tbsp-3 tbsp
- Recommended: Someone who wants to add sourness
- Effect: Making it sour and tomatoey
A few more idea's...
There are seriously endless possibilities when it comes to curry and I'm always on a mission to create the best curry there can be, but in the end it all comes down to personal preference.
Here are a few more ingredients you can try depending on whether you want to make your curry sweeter, richer, spicier or more sour.
- Grated apple
- Apple sauce
- Chili powder
- Garam Masala
- Chili sauce
- Fresh chili
- Dark chocolate
- Caramelized onion
- Worcestershire Sauce
- Tomato Puree
- Tinned Tomato
If you know any other ingredients that have improved your curry, comment below and I'll add them to the list!
Should I use water to make Japanese Curry?
So all of the curry roux cubes will tell you to mix with x amount of water, but you're certainly not limited to using plain water. The liquid added to curry is yet another opportunity to add more flavour.
Here are a few idea's to try instead of water.
- Beef stock
- Chicken stock
- Vegetable stock
- Black tea
Be careful when using beef or chicken stock, as it can make the curry too salty. Maybe you can try adding 50/50 stock and water and work from there.
As I mentioned before, you can also replace 10% of the water with red wine but if you don't want to use alcohol I've heard of some people using apple juice, grape juice or something like that! It's so fun to be creative with curry!
Frequently Asked Questions
Compared to Indian curry, I would say Japanese curry is less spicy but thicker and sweeter.
And you can usually taste a little bit of a dashi-like flavour.
You can add 1 tbsp of water and flour mix slurry but I personally don't recommend to do that.
Even if it's thin, as you simmer, it will be thicker and definitely thicker and richer next day, I think patience is mostly needed here.
It depends on what kind of roux cubes you use. In Japan there are usually 3 types and 6 levels.
• Sweet (level 1-2)
• Medium (level 3)
• Hot (level 4,5,6)
The sweet one is kids friendly so it's actually quite sweet and not spicy at all, on the other hand, hot one is actually quite hot (by Japanese standards anyway).
It's either カレーライス (Curry rice) or カレー (Curry)
It definitely depends on your preference, but I personally like:
Java curry (ジャワカレー, Hot)
Golden curry (ゴールデンカレー, Spicy)
Vermont curry (バーモントカレー, Sweet)
And I usually get these three above and mix together rather than only using one brand.
I hope this post inspires you to try out new ingredients and helps you to make the best curry you've ever made! And if you don't have access to Japanese roux cubes, check out my post on how to make Japanese curry from scratch here!
I think overall, my favourite secret ingredient is coffee, I add it every time!
What's your favourite surprise ingredient? Comment below and let us know!