Milk Street: The Art of Japanese Cooking (Ep 520)

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Japanese-Style Chicken and Vegetable Curry
Start to finish: 1 hour
Servings: 4

Japanese curry is wildly popular, including outside Japan. Some restaurants specialize in
the dish, offering dozens of iterations, from basic beef curry to fried cutlets and croquettes with curry, hamburger curry, even curried omelets. At home, Japanese curry typically is made using commercially produced “bricks,” which are seasonings mixed with a roux and packaged much like bars of chocolate. Added near the end of cooking, a curry brick, broken into pieces, melts into the mix, seasoning the dish as well as thickening it. Sonoko Sakai, a Los Angeles-based cooking instructor and author of “Japanese Home Cooking,” blends her own curry powder, which she uses to create all-natural, additive-free homemade curry bricks. This recipe is our adaptation of Sakai’s chicken curry. We simplified her curry powder and skipped the brick-making process in favor of a built-in roux for thickening. Serve with steamed short-grain rice and, if you can find it, fukujinzuke, a crunchy savory-sweet pickle-like condiment that’s commonly offered alongside Japanese curry. Lemon wedges for squeezing are a nice touch, too.

Don’t worry if the flour sticks to the bottom of the pot and begins to brown. This is normal, and the browning helps build flavor in the curry, but stir constantly and lower the heat if the flour is coloring too quickly. Also, when adding the first 1 cup water, do so in two additions and be sure to scrape the bottom of the pot to loosen any stuck bits of flour. A rigid wooden spoon is better suited to the task than a flexible silicone spatula.

INGREDIENTS
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
5 tablespoons salted butter, cut into 1-tablespoon pieces, divided
1 medium yellow onion, halved and thinly sliced
2 medium garlic cloves, finely grated
11⁄2 teaspoons finely grated fresh ginger
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon curry powder (recipe follows)
8 ounces Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1⁄2-inch chunks
1 medium carrot, peeled and sliced into 1⁄2-inch rounds
1 small red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and cut into 1⁄2-inch pieces
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon mirin

INSTRUCTIONS
In a medium bowl, toss the chicken with 1⁄2 teaspoon each salt and pepper; set aside. In a large Dutch oven over medium-high, melt 2 tablespoons of butter. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, about 9 minutes. Push the onion to the edges of the pot, add the chicken to the center and cook, stirring just once or twice, until the chicken is no longer pink on the exterior, 2 to 3 minutes. Reduce to medium, then stir the onion into the chicken. Add the garlic, ginger and the remaining 3 tablespoons butter, then cook, stirring, until the butter melts. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until lightly browned, 2 to 3 minutes; some of the flour will stick to the bottom of the pot. Add the curry powder and continue to cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant and toasted, 2 to 3 minutes.

Working in two additions, add 1 cup water while stirring and scraping the bottom of the pot to loosen the browned bits, then cook, stirring, until the mixture is smooth and thick, about 2 minutes. Stir in another 11⁄4 cups water and bring to a simmer. Add the potatoes, carrot and bell pepper, then cook, uncovered and stirring occasionally and scraping the bottom of the pot, until a skewer inserted into the potatoes and carrots meets no resistance, about 20 minutes; adjust the heat as needed to maintain a simmer.

Stir in the soy sauce, mirin and 1⁄2 teaspoon pepper. Cook, stirring often, until the curry is thick enough to lightly coat the chicken and vegetables, 2 to 4 minutes. Remove from the heat, then taste and season with salt and pepper.

Japanese-Style Curry Powder
Start to finish: 15 minutes
Makes about 1⁄3 cup

INGREDIENTS
1 small dried shiitake mushroom (about 1 inch in diameter), stemmed and broken in small pieces
11⁄2 teaspoons brown or black mustard seeds
11⁄2 teaspoons coriander seeds
11⁄2 teaspoons fennel seeds
11⁄2 teaspoons cumin seeds
11⁄2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1⁄2 teaspoon sweet paprika
1⁄2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1⁄4 teaspoon ground cloves
1⁄4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

INSTRUCTIONS
In an 8-inch skillet over medium, toast the shiitake, mustard seeds, coriander, fennel and cumin, stirring often, until fragrant, 2 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl and cool for about 5 minutes.

In a spice grinder, process the toasted spice mixture to a fine powder, 1 to 2 minutes, periodically shaking the grinder. Return to the bowl and stir in the ground ginger, turmeric, paprika, pepper, cloves and cinnamon. Store in an airtight container for up to 2
months.


Japanese Milk Bread
Start to finish: 4 hours (50 minutes active), plus cooling
Makes two 11⁄2-pound loaves

Japanese milk bread is a fluffy, slightly sweet, fine-textured loaf. It stays moister and softer longer than standard sandwich bread thanks to the Asian technique of mixing tangzhong into the dough. Tangzhong is a mixture of flour and liquid cooked to a gel; it’s often referred to as a roux, though it does not contain any butter or oil and serves a different purpose than a classic roux. The gelatinized starch in tangzhong can hold onto more water than uncooked flour, thereby offering several benefits. The dough is easy to handle despite the high hydration level; the loaf attains a high rise and a light, airy crumb; and the baked bread keeps well. Sonoko Sakai, author of “Japanese Home Cooking,” makes her milk bread with a small amount of non-wheat flour combined with bread flour. When adapting her formula, we opted to use rye flour for its nutty flavor. This recipe makes two loaves, so you will need two 81⁄2-by-41⁄2-inch loaf pans; metal works better than glass for heat conduction and browning. The baked and cooled bread keeps well at room temperature in an airtight container or plastic bag for several days (it can be stored in the refrigerator for slightly longer but would then be best rewarmed or toasted). Or the bread can be frozen, unsliced and wrapped in plastic then foil, for up to one month.

Don’t be tempted to add more flour to the dough as it is kneaded. The dough will be sticky and gluey, but after rising, it will be workable. When shaping the dough, use minimal flour so the dough remains as moist as possible. Lastly, when inverting the loaves out of the pan and turning them upright to cool, handle them gently as they are delicate and easily separate at the seam.

INGREDIENTS
For the roux:
1⁄2 cup water
1⁄4 cup plus 2 tablespoons whole milk
1⁄4 cup (34 grams) bread flour

For the dough:
113 grams (8 tablespoons) salted butter, cut into 8 pieces, room
temperature, plus 28 grams (2 tablespoons), melted, for brushing
3 large eggs, divided
1 cup whole milk, room temperature
639 grams (42⁄3 cups) bread flour, plus more for dusting
60 grams (1⁄2 cup) rye flour
80 grams (1⁄4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) white sugar
27 grams (1⁄4 cup) nonfat or low-fat dry milk powder
11⁄2 tablespoons instant yeast
13⁄4 teaspoons table salt

INSTRUCTIONS
To make the water roux, in a medium saucepan, combine the water, milk and flour, then whisk until lump-free. Set over medium and cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens (a silicone spatula drawn through the mixture leaves a trail) and bubbles slowly, 2 to 4 minutes. Scrape into a medium bowl, press a sheet of plastic wrap directly against the surface and cool to room temperature.

To make the dough, brush a large bowl with melted butter; reserve the remaining melted butter. Add two of the eggs to the cooled roux and whisk until well combined. Add the room-temperature milk and whisk until homogeneous and smooth.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together the bread and rye flours, sugar, milk powder, yeast and salt. Attach the bowl and dough hook to the mixer and, with the machine running on low, slowly add the roux-egg mixture. With the mixer still running, add the softened butter 1 tablespoon at a time. Increase the speed to medium-low and
knead until the dough is very strong and elastic, 10 to 12 minutes; it will stick to the sides of the bowl. Scrape the dough into the prepared bowl, then brush the surface with melted butter. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm spot until doubled in bulk, about 11⁄2 hours. Meanwhile, coat 2 metal 81⁄2-by-41⁄2-inch loaf pans with melted butter.

Lightly flour the counter. Gently punch down the dough, then turn it out onto the prepared counter. Using a chef’s knife or bench scraper, divide the dough into 4 equal portions, each about 355 grams (about 121⁄2 ounces). Shape each portion into a smooth
ball. Using your hands, pat one ball into a 7-by-4-inch rectangle, then fold the dough into thirds like a business letter. Pinch the seam to seal. Turn the dough seam side down and place on one side of one of the prepared loaf pans so the seam is perpendicular to the length of the pan. Shape a second portion of dough, then place it in the pan alongside the first portion, positioning it the same way; there should be just a small amount of space between the 2 pieces of dough. Cover the pan with a clean kitchen towel.

Repeat the process with the remaining portions of dough, then place under the towel alongside the first pan. Let rise until the dough domes 1 to 11⁄2 inches over the rim of the pan, about 1 hour. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 350°F with a rack in the middle position. In a small bowl, whisk the remaining egg until well combined; set aside.

When the dough is properly risen, gently brush the tops with the beaten egg. Bake until the loaves are well risen and golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes. Cool in the pans on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Gently invert the bread out of the pans, stand them upright on the rack and cool for at least 1 hour before slicing.


Daikon-Carrot Salad with Sesame and Lemon
Start to finish: 30 minutes, plus marinating
Makes about 3 cups

As Sonoko Sakai, author of “Japanese Home Cooking” explains, many vinegared Japanese salads fall somewhere between a pickle and a conventional salad, and this namasu is a good example. Meant to be served in small portions, as most Japanese pickles are, this daikon and carrot salad is traditional at New Year’s, but there’s no reason the refreshingly crunchy, tangy-sweet tangle of textures can’t be served year-round. For our adaptation of Sakai’s recipe, we skipped the harder-to-source ingredients (such as dried persimmon and yuzu) for the more widely available substitutes that she suggests (dried apricots and lemon). We also use water instead of dashi (Japanese stock) for the
marinade, but if you have dashi, use an equal amount; it will add umami to make
the vegetables taste fuller and richer. Though the salad is simple to make, it requires a two-step process: first, the vegetables are rubbed with salt and squeezed of moisture. Then they are dressed and marinated for at least four hours (or up to one week). A mortar and pestle works well for grinding the sesame seeds, or give them two or three pulses in an electric spice grinder.

Don’t be shy about massaging the daikon and carrots with the salt. Use your hands to work the salt into the vegetables until they begin to wilt. A technique used in many types of Japanese pickles, this step forces the vegetables to release some of their water and renders their texture crunchy- crisp. Table salt has a fine texture that works best for this, so don’t use kosher salt.

INGREDIENTS
1 pound daikon radish, peeled and cut into 2-inch matchsticks
1 medium carrot, peeled and cut into 2-inch matchsticks
Table salt
3⁄4 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
1⁄4 cup white sugar
1⁄4 cup dried apricots, cut into thin strips
1 tablespoon sesame seeds, toasted and coarsely ground (see headnote)
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1⁄4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

INSTRUCTIONS
In a large bowl, toss together the daikon, carrots and 1 teaspoon salt. Using your hands, massage the salt into the vegetables until they begin to wilt, about 2 minutes. Set aside for about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the vinegar, sugar and 3⁄4 teaspoon salt and 3⁄4 cup water. Whisk until the sugar and salt dissolve.

A handful at a time, squeeze the water from the vegetables. Discard any liquid accumulated in the bowl, then return the vegetables to it. Pour the vinegar mixture over the daikon and carrots, then toss to combine. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or up to 1 week.

When ready to serve, add the apricots, sesame seeds, lemon zest and pepper flakes, then toss to combine. Serve chilled or at room temperature.


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PHOTO CREDITS: CONNIE MILLER OF CB CREATIVES