Zaza's Katsu Curry
Updated: Oct 30, 2021
I've dedicated this recipe to the daughter of one of my dearest friends. She's 10 years old, has been a keen cook for the last two or three years and, I am confident, if it's a path she wishes to pursue, has every chance of being a culinary star.
This year, when I went to visit the family in Cornwall for New Year, the two headliners on the cookery hitlist were fresh pasta and Katsu Curry. Now, fish is not her favourite food and most will associate Katsu Curry with chicken (or possibly pork) so, our Katsu was of a chicken-kind. However, I had for a while been thinking that a fish Katsu Curry should be a perfectly fine thing (and I can't help thinking that the idea may have been influenced by the fish and chip shops throughout the country that offer curry sauce - for which I have a weakness - to accompany your meal), and I'm quite happy to say that it is. The difficulty I had was that Katsu curry sauce recipes I had previously found were lacking. This time not so.
The idea of a Japanese curry had always aroused my curiosity, that is until I read Lizzie Collingham's "Curry: A tale of cooks and conquerors". By her account, in the late 1800's, the progressive rulers of Japan opened their doors to the West, an invitation welcomed by British merchants who brought with them the Anglo-Indian version of curry cultivated during the era of the Raj. This became fashionable amongst the middle classes and a staple of the Japanese army. The curry of the time took the form of a "curry roux" - curry powder mixed with flour - to which stock or water was added and in which meat and vegetables were cooked. Although, in the early 1900's, authentic Indian cuisine was introduced to Japan, somehow it's the curry roux Katsu that is the popular incarnation familiar to us now.
By the way, the fresh pasta we made at New Year was also really good, and delicious served with home-made meatballs and home-made tomato sauce! Well done, Zaza!
The following recipe is largely due to Jamie Oliver, but I have simplified it and adjusted it slightly, only in the sense of trying to recreate the Katsu Curry I used to eat regularly from a takeaway and really enjoyed. Although I grind my own curry powder and garam masala, for this recipe, shop-bought versions would be quite acceptable. However I am particularly conscious that commercially-available garam masala is disappointing for two reasons. First, the aromatic spices lose their aromas rapidly once ground and, second, they tend to contain cheaper, less aromatic and less authentic spices than they should. For this reason, I have included a note for how to achieve an outstanding garam masala, and also one for a super general purpose curry powder, both from Madhur Jaffrey.
I would argue that flounder is one of the best fish to use in this recipe - it's cheap and its texture is about perfect. However, it's not always available so I suggest to use any of your favourites for breading that are available and in season. Here I have used cod, but I would eagerly use pollack, dab, plaice or whiting.
The sauce does take some time to thicken (note the roux nature of the method!) so be patient and, once it has, should be seasoned to your taste with salt and honey. As a sauce for fish I find it needs a bit more sweetness than it does for when used as a sauce for chicken. Also, the sauce can be made well ahead of time and even frozen in batches. It will need a splash of water when reheated.
Serve with a mound of sushi (or basmati) rice, pickled ginger and a glass of Asahi beer.
Zaza's Katsu Curry
Ingredients (serves 4)
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1” piece of ginger, finely chopped, or grated
1 large carrot, cut into small chunks
1 tsp curry powder
1 tsp turmeric
⅔ tsp garam masala
2 heaped tbsp plain flour
Approx 2 tsp honey, to taste
1 tbsp vegetable, sunflower or groundnut oil
750 ml hot water
Salt, to taste and ground black pepper
4 x 175g skinless fillets of pollack (or other fish, see above)
2 eggs, whisked
Oil for shallow frying
Heat the oil in a saucepan and gently fry the onion and carrot for 5-10 minutes until the onion is golden but not coloured. Add the garlic and ginger and the spices and fry for a further 5 minutes until the onions are starting to caramelize, stirring regularly . If it looks like the spices are starting to burn, add a tiny splash of water.
Stir in the flour and cook for a couple of minutes, then add half of the hot water and 1 tsp honey. Bring to the boil and let simmer for 10-15 minutes. If the sauce starts to thicken too quickly, add some more of the hot water. Test for salt and add to taste, plus add more honey to taste.
Keep on a simmer until the sauce acquires the desired consistency, then take off the heat. It may require a little more water when reheated for serving.
For the fish, season the fillets well with salt and ground black pepper and heat the oil in a frying pan. Put the flour, egg and breadcrumbs in separate bowls then coat the seasoned fish, first in the flour, then in the whisked egg, and finally in the Panko breadcrumbs. Shallow fry the fillets for a couple of minutes either side until golden brown and until the fish is cooked. Drain on kitchen paper, then slice and serve with the curry sauce.
Garam masala. This is essentially the recipe from Madhur Jaffrey's book "Flavours of India". In a coffee grinder, grind 1 tbsp green cardamoms, 1 tsp cloves, 1 tsp black peppercorns, 1 tsp black cumin seeds, a 2" piece of cinnamon or cassia bark, ⅓ nutmeg and a curl of mace.
Curry powder. Also a Madhur Jaffrey recipe, this time from "Madhur Jaffrey's Ultimate Curry Bible". In a cast iron-frying pan, gently heat 2 tbsp coriander seeds, 1 tbsp cumin seeds, 2 tsp black peppercorns, 1½ tsp black mustard seeds, 5-6 cloves and 3 dried red chillies. For the last 10 seconds add 1 tsp fenugreek seeds. Leave to cool on a plate then grind in a coffee grinder with 1 tsp turmeric.
"Flavours of India", Madhur Jaffrey (1995), pp. 270: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Flavours-India-Madhur-Jaffrey/dp/0563370777
"Madhur Jaffrey's Ultimate Curry Bible", Madhur Jaffrey (2003), pp. 324: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Madhur-Jaffreys-Ultimate-Curry-Bible/dp/0091874157