Japanese curry is a staple in most home kitchens, with the average family eating it two to three times a week. The dish can be found on restaurant menus, sold in train cars and especially served in school cafeterias. Traditional Japanese curry often makes chicken, carrots and potato the star of the show. This fresh take highlights juicy shrimp with a velvety, tomato-centric base but still relies on the unique blend of spices for that warm umami-rich flavor. Japanese curry is always served with fukujinzuke, a tasty pickled condiment that’s quick to make.
a spice grinder or coffee grinder (if making the curry powder)
For the curry brick: Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. When the butter is nearly melted, turn the heat to low. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until the paste turns light brown, about 3 minutes, being careful not to let it burn.
Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the curry powder. Pour the mixture into a heat-safe mold of your choosing, such as a mini loaf pan or cupcake cup. Use immediately in paste form or smooth the top and place in the freezer to set (at least 20 minutes). Unmold; you can use the brick immediately or refrigerate or freeze it (see Cook’s Note).
For the fukujinzuke: Combine the dried chile, soy sauce, mirin, rice vinegar, sake and sugar in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Once boiling, add the daikon, beets, carrot, mushrooms, eggplant and ginger and bring back up to a simmer. Simmer for 2 minutes. Turn off the heat. Let stand for 2 minutes, then strain the vegetables through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl, reserving the liquid. Fold in the cucumber.
Return the liquid to the saucepan and bring it to a simmer again over medium heat. Remove from heat and let cool. Enjoy right away or transfer the pickled vegetables to a glass jar with a lid and pour the liquid over the vegetables. Stir with a spoon. Allow to cool to room temperature then cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. The flavor is best if refrigerated a day or two, but it can also be eaten right away.
For the curry: Shell and devein the shrimp. Rinse and drain the shells and set aside. Make a dashi (broth) by heating 1 tablespoon of oil in a 5-quart Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the shrimp shells, 1 tablespoon minced ginger, 1 tablespoon minced garlic and the bay leaf. Cook, stirring often, for 2 minutes, being careful not to brown the mixture. Add the water and bring to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat and simmer until reduced by almost half (you want about 4 1/2 cups strained dashi), 20 to 30 minutes.
Strain the broth through a fine-mesh sieve and discard the solids. You will have about 4 1/2 cups of dashi. This can be prepared a day ahead and refrigerated.
To make the curry, pour the remaining 2 tablespoons oil into a large saucepan or 3 1/2-quart Dutch oven and heat over medium heat. Add the minced yellow onion, tomatoes, remaining 2 tablespoons ginger and remaining 2 tablespoons garlic. Cook until softened and lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Add 4 cups of the shrimp dashi and simmer 10 minutes. Add the soy sauce and sake and bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook until the liquid is reduced by a third, about 20 minutes.
Add the curry brick to the pot, reduce the heat and simmer until the sauce thickens, about 15 minutes. The sauce should now have a velvety, thick but pourable consistency. If the sauce is too thick, stir in the remaining 1/2 cup dashi or water.
Add the deveined, deshelled shrimp and mushrooms to the sauce. Stir to coat and simmer until the shrimp are just cooked through, about 3 minutes. Stir in the chile if using. Season with vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. Add the honey if you want the curry to be sweeter.
Remove from the heat and serve over fresh-cooked rice or udon noodles and garnish with parsley and lemon wedges. Serve with a mound of fukujinzuke on the side.
Sonoko Curry Powder:
Wrap the cinnamon and allspice berries in a kitchen towel, then use a meat mallet to break into smaller pieces. Toast the whole spices by combining the cinnamon pieces, allspice berries pieces, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, fennel seeds, mustard seeds, peppercorns, fenugreek seeds, cloves, cardamom and bay leaf in a medium skillet over low heat. Cook until fragrant and the mustard seeds just begin to pop, about 2 minutes. Stir often and be careful not to burn the spices. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.
Place the toasted cooled spices, kombu and shiitake mushroom in a spice grinder or coffee grinder and grind on high for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Shake and tap the grinder a couple of times to ensure all spices are ground. Sift through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl. Add the ground ginger, turmeric, paprika and cayenne and combine with a fork or a small whisk. Store the curry powder in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.
You can also use dried shiitake mushrooms in this recipe by combining them with 1 cup water and soaking them overnight in the refrigerator. Drain them and slice as directed in the recipe.
Individually wrap curry bricks tightly in plastic and place in the refrigerator or freezer until ready to use. Wrapped curry bricks will keep in the fridge for up to 3 months or in the freezer for up to 6 months.