If you love Japanese cuisine, you probably have a go-to katsu curry recipe that you use to make a delicious meal whenever you want to impress your family and friends.
As a dish with universal appeal, katsu curry has become a popular staple for keen home cooks, foodies, and anyone who enjoys eating out. There’s even a National Katsu Curry Day celebrated on the 27th September!
If you’re late to the plate, you may not yet fully appreciate why a hybrid Japanese dish – that combines a piece of panko breaded fried meat with curry sauce and a side of rice – is so highly rated in the UK.
What Is Katsu Curry?
Unlike traditional curry of the Indian subcontinent, the curry that was introduced to the Japanese population by the British, during the Meiji era, is considered to be Western-style in origin and taste. To complement the beef, that was the order of the day, a sauce was made with a curry powder infused roux that was thickened and added to the meat and vegetables, to create a ‘katsu’.
The first ‘katsu’ was invented in Japan in 1899. The pork katsuretsu dish was on the menu at the Rengatei restaurant in Tokyo. Replacing the Meiji era beef with pork cutlet allowed the Japanese to create their own unique version of European cuisine. By the 1930s, pork katsu was served up in many restaurant establishments all over the country. In a bid to make Japan a more modern nation, many chefs started to adopt a westernised approach to cooking, spicing and flavours.
The European Influence, that introduced pork as an alternative option to beef, also inspired the crispy cutlet coating. The panko crust on the meat is based on the classic German dish of schnitzel. Deep-frying the meat is another Western technique that the Japanese used to create the dish that today is loved all over the world.
Although a katsu curry recipe typically uses pork or chicken meat, if you’re vegetarian or vegan, a fried tofu cutlet or a plant-based meat-free fillet works equally well. Katsu’s popularity is primarily down to the amount of curry in its creamy, sweet and tangy sauce. The balanced Indian spices are mild enough to tempt eaters that don’t normally like spicy food.
Modern Katsu Variations
In keeping with Japan’s ever-changing food trends through the years, the classic katsu curry hasn’t been afraid to evolve. What was originally a beef-based dish, katsu gradually evolved into a Western-style curry that is nowadays most commonly made with pork or chicken. The ‘cutlet’ also transformed from a plain piece of meat to boasting a deep-fried and crispy panko crumb coating.
Katsu is also wonderfully versatile. Although it’s traditionally served as a ‘cutlet’ with curry sauce and rice, in the UK, don’t be surprised if you find that it’s dished up alongside other foods like eggs, or in between two slices of bread as a fancy sandwich filling.
And if you’re visiting Japan – home of the beloved Westernised curry – you’re likely to find plenty of katsu variations available in restaurants in different regions of the country. Deep-fried panko crusted tempeh (tofu-based) and sweet potato are amongst the most popular katsu dishes on the vegetarian restaurant menu.
The steep rise in people embracing a vegan and vegetarian lifestyle has further added to the popularity of katsu curry, in the UK. It’s not essential to have chicken, pork or beef as the main ingredient in this uniquely adaptable dish. Plant-based alternatives and tofu offer an excellent array of exciting katsu curry possibilities, if you have a meat-free diet.
In recent years, Japanese culture has enjoyed a wider global reach. People who are interested in anime, manga and kawaii have also become intrigued by Japanese Western food. People are quickly realising that there is more to Japanese cuisine than sushi, or rice and noodle dishes.
As one of the most popular types of cuisines in the world, curry provides the perfect flavour profile for any dish to be universally appealing. Cleverly blending spicy and aromatic curry with the milder flavours of Japan was always destined to result in the creation of win-win cuisine.
Today, you’ll find mass appeal katsu curry on the menu in many countries. In the UK, the popularity of the dish has birthed a demand for katsu curry sauces that are ready-made, as well as katsu style ready-made meal options. Brits are more than keen to swap their favourite tikka marsala or korma for an exotic Japanese Western alternative that ticks the essential curry spice boxes.
Due to the ease of preparation, a katsu curry recipe can be followed by anyone who wants to try their hand at making this tasty dish at home. You really don’t have to be a master chef to be able to serve a delicious katsu curry to your family and friends.