First popularized in the Japanese navy, kare raisu or Japanese curry rice, is a cultural icon and a weeknight comfort food staple enjoyed by countless families across Japan and abroad. Most home cooks rely on concentrated bricks of store-bought S&B Golden Curry sauce mix or Vermont Curry to make the signature thick and rich sauce. As a child, former senior food editor Christina Chaey thought those spiced blocks were magic. As an adult, she realized she could make her own easily—sans preservatives and fillers—and probably save a few bucks along the way.
“There are countless ways to prepare homemade kare raisu,” explains Chaey, “but the one nonnegotiable for me is S&B Curry Powder.” The blend of 17 spices, including cumin, turmeric, and black pepper, gives the dish its nostalgic flavor. Here, it’s added along with garam masala to a simple butter-flour roux that thickens the sauce.
The Japanese curry roux forms the bedrock of the dish, which you can spin in any number of directions. Chaey anchors her curry with large, bite-size pieces of mushroom and kabocha squash, but you can swap in other veggies or proteins—adjust the cook time accordingly. Watch Chaey making it and try out other variations, like curry udon (which swaps the rice for noodles), katsu curry (topped with crispy fried tonkatsu or chicken katsu), or Japanese beef curry (adding in beef along with the base vegetables).
Japanese curry is often served with fukujinzuke, a relish made with daikon, eggplant, cucumber, and lotus root, preserved in a sugar and soy sauce brine. You can find it at Japanese supermarkets like Mitsuwa, smaller East Asian grocery stores, and online.
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Tbsp. unsalted butter
cup all-purpose flour
tsp. garam masala
Tbsp. vegetable oil, divided
oz. mixed mushrooms (such as maitake, royal trumpet, shiitake, and/or crimini), torn or sliced into 2″ pieces
Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
large onion, chopped
medium carrot, peeled, sliced on a diagonal ½” thick
celery stalks, sliced on a diagonal ½” thick
garlic cloves, finely chopped
1″ piece ginger, peeled, finely chopped
cups low-sodium vegetable broth
oz. kabocha squash, scrubbed, or other winter squash, peeled, seeds removed, cut into 1″ pieces (about 2½ cups)
Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. honey
Thinly sliced scallions and cooked short-grain rice (for serving)
Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in flour and cook, whisking often, until roux is light golden brown, 5–8 minutes. Stir in curry powder and garam masala and cook, stirring, until very fragrant, about 1 minute. Remove from heat; set curry roux aside.
Heat 2 Tbsp. oil in a large saucepan over medium-high. Cook mushrooms, tossing occasionally, until golden brown, about 5 minutes; season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a small bowl; reserve saucepan.
Heat remaining 1 Tbsp. oil in reserved saucepan over medium. Add onion, carrot, and celery and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are slightly softened and onion is translucent, 6–8 minutes. Add garlic and ginger and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Pour in broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and add squash and mushrooms; simmer gently until liquid is reduced by a third and vegetables are very tender, 20–25 minutes. Whisk in honey and reserved curry roux until incorporated and roux is lump-free. Simmer, whisking occasionally, until sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, 5–10 minutes. Taste curry and season with more salt if needed.
Divide curry among shallow bowls; top with scallions. Serve with rice.
Do ahead: Curry can be made 4 days ahead; let cool. Transfer to an airtight container; cover and chill.
Editor’s note: This recipe was originally published in December 2021. Head this way for more Japanese recipes →