You might not associate Japanese cooking and curry, but one of the most popular home-style dishes in Japan is curry rice (karee raisu). Curry was brought there in the late 19th century, courtesy of the British, who found it in India. As is the case when an unknown ingredient is introduced into a culture, curry had to be adapted to suit the new hosts. Thus the birth of curry roux, a packaged blend of spices, flour, fat, and sometimes fruit, which comes in varying degrees of heat. It melts in a steaming pot of stew and creates a thick and flavorful sauce. This curry, made with beef, potatoes, and grated kiwi or apple, to tenderize the meat and sweeten it, is served with short-grain white rice, pickled red ginger (beni shoga), and pickled scallions (rakkyo).
Another popular bed for curry in Japan is thick udon noodles. The Tokyo restaurant chain Konaya serves only this dish along with paper bibs, as the hot, stain-inducing yellow curry can dribble on your clothes. The restaurant uses dashi, bonito fish stock, as the base, along with milk, which turns the bowls creamy and smoky. Here, just milk enriches a stew. We add stir-fried zucchini and mushrooms to the curry, then ladle it over hot udon for a satisfying bowl. Tuck in a big napkin and eat with abandon.
1 1/4 pounds stew beef (such as round)
1 cup whole milk
1 large onion
2 large russet potatoes
1 kiwi or 1/2 apple
8 ounces button mushrooms
3 cloves garlic
Salt and pepper
4 tablespoons canola oil
1 1/2 cups short-grain white rice
4 nests of pre-cooked udon or 10 ounces of dried udon
1 package (4 ounces) Japanese-style curry roux
1/4 cup red ginger (beni shoga)
1/2 cup pickled scallions (rakkyo)