This Tofu Katsu and Japanese Curry meal, 曰式炸豆腐咖喱 (Rì shì zhà dòu fu gā lí) is a satisfying meal that I have recreated many times for my family before sharing it on this blog.
Growing up in Malaysia, curry has been a staple food for me. There are so many curry variations; Malay, Indian, and Chinese. Each has its own distinct taste and equally tasty if you ask me.
However, I didn’t try Japanese curry until I was an adult. I first tasted Japanese curry when I was in college and it didn’t give me the best impression until I went to Japan a few years ago and tried the vegan version of Japanese curry. It was pure comfort food, each bite had warm short-grain rice and left me wanting for more.
Since I’ve shared the tofu katsu (cutlet) noodle before, let’s talk about the curry today. There is a big difference between Japanese curry compared to other curries that I’ve tried before.
Japanese curry is thicker and made with a roux or Japanese curry cubes. It doesn’t contain any coconut milk. Some of the ingredients used include potatoes, carrots, and protein. These ingredients are slowly simmered until fork tender. This cooking method reminds me of my mom’s braised potato dish.
The potatoes absorb all the sauce which creates a creamy and melty dish. Imagine when you pair this dish with warm sushi rice; it’ll just melt in your mouth and the taste is exceptional!
I have broken down the dish into two parts: 1. Tofu Katsu and 2. Japanese curry made with potatoes, carrots, and mushrooms. If you are able to find Japanese curry cubes, it will save you a great amount of time. However, I wanted to make the roux from scratch using JustOneCookbook’s recipe with minor adjustments to the spice level.
Why you will love this Japanese curry
I love curries but my new favorite is Japanese curry. It has great flavors of sweet and salty, packed with aromatic spices. Most importantly, it has that melt-in-your-mouth flavor. I said this because the potatoes, carrots are so soft after braising and go perfectly well with a scoop of warm rice.
This Japanese curry has:
Caramelized onion – this is one of the crucial sweetness and smokiness in this curry. This process does take a little time as you’ll need to slowly cook the onions until they are caramelized. It’s totally worth it!
Apples – I used a small Fuji apple that I blended and the slight tang is just enough to bring out the curry flavor even more.
Fruit jam or preserves – Instead of sugar, I used peach preserves, just a tiny bit is enough to add a layer of sweetness to the curry.
Optional ingredient: Chocolate – I didn’t use it this time but it’s a great ingredient to add a layer of robust flavor.
How to make Tofu Katsu Japanese Curry
Part 1: Tofu Katsu
To give the tofu a meaty texture, I decided to freeze the firm tofu using my Vegan Sweet and Sour Pork recipe. First, drain out the tofu liquid properly. You can either use a tofu presser or any make-shift method.
Then, freeze the tofu overnight and thaw it to room temperature the next morning. Press the tofu again to remove additional liquid. If you prefer not to freeze the tofu, feel free to use my Tofu Katsu Noodle recipe.
Cut tofu into 2 big slabs. Just for fun, I trimmed the tofu’s side to make it look more like a cutlet. Don’t forget to season the tofu.
Now, prepare the batter station with each ingredient in separate plates: flour, plant-based egg (or milk), and panko breadcrumbs. I highly recommend panko as they are light and will give the tofu a crispier texture.
First, coat the tofu slabs generously with flour, then dip all sides with the plant-based egg, and finally dab a thick layer of panko breadcrumbs on each side.
Note: Gently press the panko onto the tofu so the panko will adhere.
Fill a tall pan with oil, about 1-2 cm in height, and turn on the heat. Once the oil is heated through about 350ºF (180ºC), fry the tofu until golden brown on each side.
Note: Do not flip until each side is fully cooked through. Drain the fried tofu slabs on a drain rack until ready to use.
To bake the tofu katsu instead, please check the steps from Tofu Katsu Noodle bowl.
Part 2: Japanese Curry
There two ways to make the Japanese curry, one using the store-bought curry cubes, and the second is to make the curry paste from scratch. There are many vegan and vegetarian-friendly curry cubes available at the store. Be sure to chop the cubes into smaller pieces so they will melt easily in the broth.
While you can use the cubes, especially when you are in a time crunch, I decided to give Nami’s homemade curry roux recipe from JustOneCookbook a try. I used a different curry powder and adjusted the spice level accordingly.
Make the curry roux
It does take some time to make the roux as you need to cook the flour until the mixture turns darker brown. This is crucial to give the curry a deep color.
Then, add the curry powder, garam masala, and cayenne pepper. Stir to combine and set it this aside. You can store it in a jar and refrigerate it for future use.
Cook the curry
To make the curry, pan-fry mushrooms until golden brown to remove the moisture. Dish out and set aside.
Then, add more oil to the pan and sauté onion until they turn a darker brown. Please watch the heat as high heat will burn the onion easily. This takes between 15 – 20 minutes depending on the size of the pan and how fine your onions are.
Add the potatoes, carrots, mushrooms, and vegetable stock. Bring the mixture to a boil. Cover with a lid and let the mixture simmer over medium-low heat until the potatoes are fork-tender.
During the last few minutes of cooking, blend apple into puree.
Once the potatoes are soft (I checked the potatoes regularly with a chopstick), stir in the curry roux, apple sauce, and season accordingly.
Serve the tofu katsu and curry with warm rice. I highly recommend short-grain or sushi rice for an excellent taste experience.
Tofu Katsu Cooking Tips
Firm tofu vs frozen firm tofu: I have tried both ways of making the tofu, and each yields a great crispy result. The frozen one does have a better texture.
Season! – Season the tofu slab accordingly with salt and pepper.
Is flour needed? Yes! This creates a nice layer that will absorb the moisture from the tofu and the wash that you are using. Feel free to use gluten-free flour as an alternative. Note: Rice flour works great and will create a great crispy texture.
Plant-based wash – In this recipe, I’m using plant-based egg, but other alternatively includes, aquafaba (chickpea brine), and plant milk
Breadcrumbs – I highly recommend panko as it’s light and has the best crispy texture once fried. Also, when you coat the tofu, gently press to be sure the panko adheres nicely on all sides. This gentle press shouldn’t be overlooked because the more you pack, the crispier the texture will be.
This Tofu Katsu Japanese Curry is
- No coconut milk
- Delicious and Flavorful
- Easily customizable
- Tasty and Cozy!
If you try this recipe, I would love to hear your feedback and see your beautiful re-creation. Leave me a comment, rate it, and tag @woon.heng and #woonheng to your photos on Instagram or Facebook. Happy cooking, friends!
Tofu Katsu with Japanese Curry
- 16 oz firm tofu drained and freeze
- salt and pepper to taste
- ¼ cup flour
- ¼ cup plant-based egg or plant milk or aquafaba
- ½ cup panko breadcrumbs
- salt and pepper
- oil for cooking
- 2 small-sized potato about 1 lb, peeled
- 2 medium-sized carrot chopped
- 8 oz King Oyster mushrooms chopped
- 4 cups veggie stock
- 1 large onion finely chopped (yields about 1¼ cups)
- 1 small Fuji apple peeled and seeded
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- salt to taste
- ½ tablespoon peach preserves optional (see notes)
- plant-based butter for cooking
- oil for cooking
- 3 tablespoons plant-based butter
- 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1½ tablespoons curry powder
- 1 tablespoon garam masala
- ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- Cooked sushi rice
- finely julienned cabbage
How to prepare Tofu Katsu
- To prepare the tofu, remove the tofu from its package and drain out the water. Wrap the tofu with paper towels or a clean dishcloth.
- Place tofu on a chopping board and stack with another flat plate or chopping board. Then weigh it down with something heavy such as cans or cartons. Let the tofu drain for about 10-15 minutes. Remove and place the tofu back into its package and freeze overnight.
- When ready, thaw the tofu to room temperature and squeeze the tofu between your palms to remove the liquid.
- Then, cut into 2 big slabs. I trimmed the sides to make it look like a cutlet but this is an optional step. Season both sides generoulsy with salt and pepper.
- Next, set up the dipping station: Place flour, plant-based eggs, and panko breadcrumbs on 3 separate plates.
- Take a tofu slab and coat each side generously with flour. Then, dip it into the plant-based egg until coated and drip off excess. Finally, lay the tofu on the panko and gently press to get the panko to stick until all sides are well coated.
- Heat ½-inch vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium heat. To test if the oil is ready, drop a small piece of panko into the oil. If it sizzles, then the oil is ready.
- Carefully slide the tofu into the hot oil. The tofu should sizzle as soon as it touches the oil. Use a pair of tongs to lift a corner to check the color.
- Once the tofu is golden, slowly turn them over and fry the other side. Note: if it's browning too quickly, lower the heat just a little.
- When ready remove and transfer katsu to a drain rack. This will keep the katsu crispy until ready to use. The katsu is ready to be served as-is with a side of rice.
Prepare the curry roux
- Skip this step if you are using store-bought curry cubes.
- To make the curry roux, melt the butter in a pot over medium-low heat and whisk in the flour. Stir the mixture while cooking until it starts to turn brown. This process takes about 10-12 minutes.
- Then, add the garam masala, curry powder, and cayenne pepper. Stir until well-combined and set it aside until ready to use or refrigerate once it's cooled.
How to prepare Japanese curry and serve
- To prepare the curry, melt butter in a pan and sauté the mushrooms until aromatic. Then, transfer it to a plate and set it aside.
- Using the same pan, add more cooking oil and sauté onions until they caramelized.
- Add the carrots, potatoes, and mushrooms and cover the ingredients with vegetable stock.
- Place a lid over and bring the mixture to a boil, then lower the heat and let it simmer. Check the potatoes' tenderness with a fork or chopstick.
- Meanwhile, blend the apple into a puree.
- Once the potatoes are fork-tender and fully cooked through, season with soy sauce, salt, apple, and peach preserves (if using).
- Using a sieve, stir the curry roux into the broth. The broth will slowly turn darker. Test and season if needed.
- To serve, add a few spoons of rice to a plate and then, top with tofu katsu and ladle the hot curry over. Serve warm a side of shredded cabbage.
- I’m using a large onion which yields about 1 ¼ cups after chopped
- The peach preserve is absolutely optional. Skip if you have a large Fuji apple or you prefer a less sweet version
- Curry Roux recipe is from JustOneCookbook