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.