Japanese Curry with Tofu Katsu

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No, I don’t have a problem–even though this tofu katsu curry is the fifth curry recipe I’ve uploaded onto this site, everything is totally fine. If you’ve read my most recent butternut squash and chickpea curry post, I’m sure you’re keenly aware that curry is both my favorite food and the perfect meal for… trying times, and if there’s one thing the past month has been it’s hectic. JMU decided to shut down in-person classes just six days after the start of the semester, and four weeks later have changed their minds again, making this one of the strangest falls I think I’ve ever experienced. Looking back to this time last year, Alex and I spent the majority of August, September, and October travelling back and forth between Virginia and New England (New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Vermont) every other weekend for a slew of family events and wedding planning, and then hosted a visit from his parents in mid-October. Throw in Thanksgiving, Christmas, and some local get-togethers with friends in-between and it’s safe to say that fall is and always has been our busiest season, socially. Honestly, that seems like a lifetime ago.

I like to think that we’ve adapted somewhat over the past few months of “social distancing”, and we’ve kept ourselves busy in as many ways possible. Aside from the obvious major life changes that always seem to get lost in the haze when reminiscing about this year (Alex’s new job, my new academic path, moving to a new town, etc.), we’ve made other adjustments, as well. We’ve both made a conscious effort to be healthier, especially now that we can’t get our exercise from wandering around Target for three hours every Saturday. Alex has started the couch-to-5K running program, I’ve done my best to pick up yoga and go on a four-hour “urban hike” once a week. We’ve also almost entirely eliminated restaurants from our diet, with a goal to only “eat out” (or get take-out) once per month, and that has also made us more conscious of the meals we cook at home. Although we’ve definitely been experimenting more with deep-frying (as evidenced with this tofu katsu curry recipe), we’ve also made a point to broaden the variety of vegetables, grains, and proteins in our respective diets.

Outside of “self-improvement”, though, we’ve also spent the majority of 2020 just thoroughly enjoying our hobbies. I have already surpassed my goal of reading one-hundred books by the end of the year, and I don’t see my pace slowing much between now and December. With three literature-heavy English courses this semester (studies of Shakespearean tragedies, comparative studies of childhood trauma in literature, and twentieth-century queer literature) and a never-ending stream of pre-ordered new releases arriving in the mail, I doubt I’ll run out of things to read anytime soon. We also clocked just under two-hundred hours on the JRPG Persona 5R and one-hundred-fifty hours on Animal Crossing: New Horizons over the course of the summer, and while Alex has moved on to Persona 4 Golden, I have begun a replay of Breath of the Wild in anticipation for the game’s prequel release in November. Our anime consumption skyrocketed, too, with entire weekends spent in a marathon-like haze of rewatching some of my older favorites that Alex hadn’t previously seen.

Admittedly, none of this has anything to do with tofu katsu curry, but it seems like I always get a little bit introspective in my curry posts. Something about the warm, spicy comfort food always puts me in the mood to reflect on things. This year has been one of gradual improvement in all things, and this tofu katsu curry is no exception. The first time I made it, I wasn’t really sure where to begin with the tofu katsu itself, so we ended up with giant chunks of oily, tough-to-chew protein with hardly any breading and even less flavor. On the second iteration, however, I made quite a few changes, and managed to produce something so good that I have now eaten the leftovers three days in a row.

One of my favorite parts about living in our new apartment is the space to experiment in the kitchen, and how that has translated into a willingness to test recipes multiple times before posting–especially more elaborate ones like this tofu katsu curry. In our old apartment, if a recipe wasn’t amazing the first time, more often than not I either abandoned the idea altogether or only attempted to remake it after months of psyching myself up. Now, with the freedom and flexibility of more counter space, a larger dishwasher, and excellent ventilation, cooking methods like deep frying and complex dishes with lots of moving parts have become so much easier to tweak to my liking. Off the top of my head, I can think of three multi-step recipes I have changed and remade at least twice, all of which I plan to reproduce again based on those notes: black bean and sweet potato enchiladas, jackfruit Korean BBQ tacos, and a steamed-egg and bacon breakfast burrito skillet (that can easily be made either entirely vegan or half/half). While my creativity in the kitchen has definitely expanded, the standards to which I hold my own cooking have begun to slowly but steadily raise. My goal for the upcoming fall season is find a balance between continual improvement and self-forgiveness for any mistakes I make, which seems like it could be a good outlook to have just as much in life as on the stove.

Japanese Curry

This recipe makes six servings.

Ingredients:

  • 3 Japanese curry cubes (I used Vermont Curry brand)
  • 1-2 large sweet potatoes
  • 1-2 large russet potatoes
  • 2-3 large carrots
  • 2 large onions
  • 2-3 bell peppers (red, yellow, or orange)
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 cups spinach
  • 1/4 cup applesauce (unsweetened)
  • 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp ginger, minced
  • 2 tsp garam masala
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp gochugaru/red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tsp salt

Directions:

  1. Roughly chop all vegetables (potatoes, carrots, bell pepper, onion) and mince garlic and ginger as needed.
  2. In a large stock pot, heat sesame oil on medium-high. Add salt, garlic, ginger, and onion. Sauté until sizzling and fragrant, about 2-3 minutes.
  3. Add remaining vegetables and spices, sans curry cubes (garam masala, cayenne pepper, gochugaru/red pepper flakes) and sauté for an additional 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. Add vegetable broth, apple sauce, soy sauce (dark), vinegar, and curry cubes. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally until curry cubes have completely dissolved, about 10-15 minutes.
  5. Cover and reduce to medium-low heat to simmer for an additional 25-30 minutes.
  6. Reduce heat to low and add spinach. Stir gently until spinach is completely wilted. Serve warm over rice with tofu katsu and tonkatsu sauce (see recipes below).

Tofu Katsu (deep-fried tofu cutlet)

This recipe makes six slices, three total servings.

Ingredients:

  • 16oz firm/extra firm tofu
  • 1/4 cup light soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp sake
  • 1 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp sesame oil
  • 1.5 cups panko breadcrumbs
  • 2 eggs OR 1/4 cup diluted egg replacer (I used Bob’s Red Mill with 2x water)
  • vegetable oil for deep-frying

Directions:

  1. Press water from tofu for at least 30 minutes.
  2. Slice tofu width-wise into cutlets about 1/2-inch thick and gently set aside.
  3. In a small mixing bowl, combine marinade ingredients (light soy sauce, dark soy sauce, sake, rive vinegar, and sesame oil). Stir to combine.
  4. Place tofu in marinade, cover, and let sit for 6-24 hours. (Note: I have marinated both overnight and early in the morning in prep for dinner. Both work well.)
  5. When ready to fry, heat vegetable oil in a wide-bottomed, high-walled pot or pan to 350F. (Note: Do not begin frying at a lower heat–your batter/panko will fall off immediately and it will be a mess.)
  6. Dredge tofu slices in egg/diluted egg replacer, then in panko breadcrumbs until entirely coated. Gently place in hot frying oil.
  7. Fry for 3-4 minutes on each side, or until dark golden brown (see pictured) then remove to a wire rack or paper towel-lined tray.
  8. Repeat until all tofu pieces have been fried. Serve with rice, Japanese curry, and tonkatsu sauce (see attached recipes).

Tonkatsu Sauce (deep-fried cutlet sauce)

As most of the ingredients used in this version of a tonkatsu sauce recipe are the same as the tofu katsu marinade, you can use that as a base for this sauce. “Traditionally”, the Americanized version of this sauce is either purchased from a bottle or made with ingredients like ketchup and Worcestershire sauce, but I do not keep either of those in my fridge and do not make katsu often enough to justify buying either a store-bought version or the ketchup/Worcestershire sauce the Americanized version originally calls for. Instead, I tried to recreate something similar with what I already had on-hand. The sauce is supposed to be thick, salty, and sour to contrast the sweet/spicy flavors of the curry and lighten the deep-fried cutlet, and I think I was able to pull that off quite well with more “common” Asian pantry ingredients. Because it is so concentrated, only a little bit (about 1 tbsp, see pictures) is needed to really bring the whole meal together, so it makes more sense to use what I had rather than make a special trip to the store.

This recipe makes about 6floz, which is about 12 servings.

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup light soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp sake
  • 2 tbsp oyster/mushroom sauce
  • 1 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 1 tsp brown sugar
  • 1/8 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/8 tsp onion powder
  • 1/8 tsp mustard powder
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch

Directions:

  1. In a small saucepan, combine light soy sauce and cornstarch and stir until all cornstarch has dissolved.
  2. Add all other ingredients and stir to combine.
  3. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat and simmer for 5-7 minutes, or until sauce has thickened considerably.
  4. Serve in small 1-1 1/2 tsp amounts atop tofu katsu (see attached recipe).

Tofu Katsu Curry

Japanese Curry with Tofu Katsu and Tonkatsu Sauce
Prep Time6 hrs 45 mins
Cook Time1 hr 30 mins
Total Time8 hrs 15 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Japanese
Servings: 6 servings

Ingredients

Japanese Curry

  • 3 Japanese curry cubes (I used Vermont Curry brand)
  • 1-2 large sweet potatoes
  • 1-2 large russet potatoes
  • 2-3 large carrots
  • 2 large onions
  • 2-3 bell peppers red, yellow, or orange
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 cups spinach
  • 1/4 cup applesauce unsweetened
  • 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp garlic minced
  • 1 tbsp ginger minced
  • 2 tsp garam masala
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp gochugaru/red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tsp salt

Tofu Katsu

  • 16 oz firm/extra firm tofu
  • 1/4 cup light soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp sake
  • 1 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp sesame oil
  • 1.5 cups panko breadcrumbs
  • 2 eggs OR 1/4 cup diluted egg replacer
  • vegetable oil for deep-frying

Tonkatsu Sauce

  • 1/4 cup light soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp sake
  • 2 tbsp oyster/mushroom sauce
  • 1 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 1 tsp brown sugar
  • 1/8 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/8 tsp onion powder
  • 1/8 tsp mustard powder
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch

Instructions

Japanese Curry

  • Roughly chop all vegetables (potatoes, carrots, bell pepper, onion) and mince garlic and ginger as needed.
  • In a large stock pot, heat sesame oil on medium-high. Add salt, garlic, ginger, and onion. Sauté until sizzling and fragrant, about 2-3 minutes.
  • Add remaining vegetables and spices, sans curry cubes (garam masala, cayenne pepper, gochugaru/red pepper flakes) and sauté for an additional 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Add vegetable broth, apple sauce, soy sauce (dark), vinegar, and curry cubes. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally until curry cubes have completely dissolved, about 10-15 minutes.
  • Cover and reduce to medium-low heat to simmer for an additional 25-30 minutes.
  • Reduce heat to low and add spinach. Stir gently until spinach is completely wilted. Serve warm over rice with tofu katsu and tonkatsu sauce (see recipes below).

Tofu Katsu

  • Press water from tofu for at least 30 minutes.
  • Slice tofu width-wise into cutlets about 1/2-inch thick and gently set aside.
  • In a small mixing bowl, combine marinade ingredients (light soy sauce, dark soy sauce, sake, rive vinegar, and sesame oil). Stir to combine.
  • Place tofu in marinade, cover, and let sit for 6-24 hours. (Note: I have marinated both overnight and early in the morning in prep for dinner. Both work well.)
  • When ready to fry, heat vegetable oil in a wide-bottomed, high-walled pot or pan to 350F. (Note: Do not begin frying at a lower heat–your batter/panko will fall off immediately and it will be a mess.)
  • Dredge tofu slices in egg/diluted egg replacer, then in panko breadcrumbs until entirely coated. Gently place in hot frying oil.
  • Fry for 3-4 minutes on each side, or until dark golden brown (see pictured) then remove to a wire rack or paper towel-lined tray.
  • Repeat until all tofu pieces have been fried. Serve with rice, Japanese curry, and tonkatsu sauce (see attached recipes).

Tonkatsu Sauce

  • In a small saucepan, combine light soy sauce and cornstarch and stir until all cornstarch has dissolved.
  • Add all other ingredients and stir to combine.
  • Bring to a boil and then reduce heat and simmer for 5-7 minutes, or until sauce has thickened considerably.
  • Serve in small 1-1 1/2 tsp amounts atop tofu katsu (see attached recipe).
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