One of the highlights of my fairly frugal student life in London was catching the tube to Central London to catch up on city life and take on the town with my best friend. The Japanese Canteen in East London was where we would stop for a quick bite and without fail, that order would include some Japanese chicken or prawn Katsu with curry poured over steaming hot rice.
Katsu is simply a Japanese cutlet made with panko breadcrumbs. Seeing how readily available panko is these days in Indian markets, it’s a shocker that we haven’t started breading all our cutlets with it. The difference between panko and just regular ol’ breadcrumbs is that panko isn’t ground fine but kept coarse to make the coating of your cutlet lighter, crispier and airier. It also absorbs less oil than regular breadcrumbs, which makes it the ideal new pantry item to bring home, yes?
Katsu or the cutlet’s accompaniments are really what makes this such a shockingly good meal and the curry, in this case, is one of the most popular. The curry is made with a roux of flour, fat and some spices. I use garam masala. Now you’re probably thinking- this doesn’t sound very Japanese at all, but rather a warped Indian curry since you’re using garam masala. This is where I must correct you, for there is no real concept of ‘curry’ in Indian cuisine.
The word curry may have Indian roots in the Tamil kadi, sure, but the way it is used in the West to mean any spiced sauce is what sets it apart from Indian cuisine. A curry is more English if anything because the term is a signifier of Indian food invented in British colonial narratives. Trade routes helped take the concept of curry far and wide as countries both colonised and uncolonised began adapting and creating curries as per their culinary identity.
Bira 91’s International Curry Week currently running in Delhi, New York AND Singapore celebrates the diversity of this curry across the world and its careful pairing with Bira 91 beers. To be honest, it feels great as an Indian to see a local craft beer doing so well in international waters. They’ve tied up with nearly 300 restaurants across the cities and select restaurants shall be offering diners a curry-centric main course with a Bira 91 beer alongside. To find more information about the ongoing Curry Week taking place in Delhi, follow this link. Some of the participating restaurants are favourites of mine such as Lavaash By Saby, Rustoms, Fig & Maple, Jamun, Pings and Coast Cafe.
Now for this particular Jap curry, usually store-bought cubes of S&B’s Japanese Curry Sauce are used, which is just spiced roux if you open it up and have a look. If there’s one thing though that Indian cooking has taught us, it is that when we freshly ground our spices, the final dish too will boast fantastic flavour. With a bit of jazzing up, I’ve tried to recreate the curry sauce of my wild days in the UK in my home kitchen. I paired this with Bira 91’s IPA because the hoppy IPA acts as a palate cleanser between bites of curry and rice and pairs quite well with the crumb-fried chicken too.
Chicken Katsu Curry With Quickled Cucumbers
Yield 6 servings
While the panko breadcrumbs are an absolute must when making cats curry, if you don’t have some at home and still want to make this, I won’t stop you from using regular breadcrumbs. Just make sure to slice the corners of your bread and don’t grind it too fine. The longer they sit and dry/stale outside on the kitchen counter, the better the breadcrumbs get.
For The Katsu Cutlets
Chicken Boneless Breasts 3, halved so you have 6 pieces
Salt and pepper
Maida or All purpose flour 2 cups
Panko breadcrumbs 2 cups
Eggs 4, beaten lightly
Vegetable oil for frying
For The Curry
Garam masala 2 1/2 tablespoons (freshly ground) I find that a mix of black peppercorns, cumin, coriander seeds, methi seeds, green cardamom, fennel, cloves, star anise and cinnamon works well here.
Turmeric powder 1 tsp
Chilli powder 1 tsp
Onion 1/2 kg, diced
Garlic 3 cloves, bashed in and chopped
Carrots 3, medium-sized, cut into large dices
Potatoes 3, medium-sized, cup into large dices
Peas 1 cup, frozen
Flour 1/4 cup
Butter 2 tablespoons, plus 1/4 cup
Ginger 1 tsp, grated
Chicken stock 1 litre, from a bouillon cube is fine
Cucumber 1 cucumber
Vinegar 2 tablespoons
Sugar 2 tablespoons
First up, For the katsu, you want to separate the chicken breast halves until you have 6 cutlets. Put each of these cutlets one by one in a zip-lock bag and bash using a meat hammer or you could alternately just put the cutlet between two pieces of cling film and put a cast iron skillet or another heavy object on top to weight it down and flatten it till it has reached the desired thinness. Please do not flatten it out to paper-thinness and at least keep it 1/4 inch thick. Season both sides generously with salt and pepper and keep this outside to lounge till you get on with the rest of the curry.
Lightly toast your spices in a skillet or frying pan and transfer to the mixer grinder. Blitz the spices briefly and keep covered to trap the aromatics until its time to start on the curry. Mix in the turmeric and red chilli powder.
When ready to begin, heat a kadai or wide saucepan over a medium heat and when hot, add 2 tablespoons of butter and add the onions to the pan. Lower the heat and let the onions slowly go from translucent to golden. When they’re golden, add the carrots and bashed chopped garlic in and let this mixture cook for 2-3 minutes over medium-high heat stirring everything together. Splash in the chicken stock and let the stock come up to a boil. At this stage add the potatoes to the stock and a few more pinches of salt, taking care not to oversalt since the stock has some salt of its own.
Reduce the heat and put a lid on and cook this mixture for 12-15 minutes or until the carrots are fork tender and the potatoes have cooked through.
Once this is done, you want to pour this vegetable mixture out of the kadai or saucepan and in the same pan, add the remaining 1/4 cup butter and 1/4 flour and stir this mixture over a medium-low heat till the flour is a nutty brown colour and nicely toasted. When the roux is browned nicely—this process should take about 15 minutes, add 2 1/2 tbsp of the spice mix along with the ginger and you want to stir this up for a minute to activate everything before you slowly start to pour in the stock mixture from before, constantly stirring as you go.
Now is when you would start checking for salt as the curry begins to thicken and bubble up again. Season with salt and pepper and stir in the peas for their brief cooking. Once the peas are tender after say 3-4 minutes and everything tastes balanced, take the curry off the hob. The curry's consistency should be thick like cream.
Heat a cast iron skillet or other frying pan over medium-heat and add to it the vegetable oil for shallow-frying. I repeat, shallow-frying, not deep-frying, so you’re not going to use that much vegetable oil.
Next keep ready two plates and one bowl. Add the flour to one plate and panko or regular breadcrumbs to the other. In the third bowl, add the lightly beaten eggs.
Using your left hand, coat the chicken with flour on both sides and slip the chicken into the bowl with the beaten eggs, then without letting go, drop it into the breadcrumbs. Switch to your right hand and pick up the chicken cutlet, pressing to compact the breadcrumbs onto the surface of the chicken as much as possible. If done right your left hand should be your wet hand and the right one, dry. Repeat for the rest of the cutlets.
When the oil in the cast iron skillet is hot enough for frying, but not smoking hot, (like slightly before it starts to smoke) is when you want to slip the chicken into the pan. Using a pair of tongs, slip the chicken narrow side first laying it down gently and carefully into the hot oil. Cook each side just a little over a minute swirling the oil around as it cooks for even browning and crust formation. Flip and cook for 90 seconds again and take it off letting the chicken rest for a few minutes before slicing in.
For the quickle or quick pickle, chop up the cucumbers roughly and stir with the vinegar and sugar. To assemble the dish, pile up some rice on a plate and spoon over the roux-thickened curry on the side. Top the rice with one cutlet of the chicken, cut into strips and quick pickled cucumbers. Stir up everything and tuck in, sipping on your Bira 91 IPA.