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Mucho Gusto

Nico’s Japanese Curry

This is the twenty-third installment in Mucho Gusto, a recipe initiative by and for students to help connect us through food in times of isolation. If you’ve got a recipe you think would make a great addition, reach out to us!

Make if you have: Beef, vegetables, rice

La génération éperdue, and a Japanese Curry Recipe

One hundred years ago, the world was also changing. After weeks happening in decades, decades had finally decided to happen in weeks. A world war, a pandemic, and a new world order inspired the generation that took up residence in Paris and began their artistically unhinged lifestyle. It burned bright and fast, suffused with the knowledge that tomorrow is never a certainty. They became known as the lost generation. 

It’s too early to tell if our current situation will be as effective an artistic catalyst. But what is for certain is that there are times where the world seems more certain and times where it does not, and we live in the latter. 

It was already tough for us. We’re the generation that serves as the lab rats for everything from vapes to Snapchat to distance learning. Our experience is more valuable to society as a set of data, statistics detailing how our socializing is decreasing and anxiety is skyrocketing. All the while we’re expected to live a double consciousness, inhabiting an illusory world where we signal a work ethic that we adopt out of fear of falling behind in our cohort. Our true passions serve as the coal that fuels the fire of “the grind.” At least previous generations didn’t pretend that their work was anything other than that.

Not to mention the cataclysms we deal with on a weekly basis. One week it’s a planet on fire, the next it’s the casual proclamation of the death of 100,000 humans. And even when things aren’t rapturous, we make them out to be, because we know no other way to rationalize them. Things we see can’t be unimportant because that would imply that to most of the world, our lives are just as unimportant. 

On top of all of that, we saw any concrete future we had to hold on to dissolve in front of our eyes, like an Alkaseltzer in a glass of water. 

Add an “e” to the front of the French word for lost and you get éperdue, meaning “distraught.” From the lost generation you get the distraught generation. La génération éperdue. Full disclosure, I didn’t come up with that. I am not clever enough and also my French is not that good—it’s a compilation album by Yves Simon. But I still find it poignant, even if only for all the angst present in that phrase. But like, did I mention that the WHO predicts a mental health crisis pandemic as a direct cause of our respiratory health pandemic? 

We’re just as lost as Hemingway and his lot. All of our plans for the future are variations of the sundry journeys he and his friends and lovers took. Reading him at this moment is a bit cathartic if only how nice it is to see someone else just meandering through life. 

My Hemingway moment came to me in a plate of Japanese curry. It was noon, and the night before ended at 5am on the hunt for the evasive Uber that would take us through the streets of Paris to our homestays. We woke up surprisingly lucid and decided to go to Pontochoux, an 8-seat restaurant in Oberkampf that was suggested to me by Max, a kid from my Rhetoric class who swore he was from London even though he had an American accent and went to UChicago. 

The meal itself was a summation of all the ephemera that defined my time abroad. A careless saunter through the streets where the biggest problem never went beyond the question of where to eat. Late Uber rides to a nice bed in a good neighborhood. The most perilous situation was that time we doubled up on a Lime scooter and zipped alongside the canal to get home quicker in the rain.

I feel as lost now as I did then, the chief difference being that I don’t have access to good Japanese curry now. I also don’t have access to my friends, or any place to meet up with them. Sometimes, though, I just miss the curry. I miss how it simultaneously solved all of my problems. It wasn’t just curing my hangover, it was curing all loneliness I carried with me. So naturally I tried to recreate that.

I used Adam Liaw’s recipe. I didn’t have some of the ingredients and it made a difference so I’m going to include those which I didn’t use too. You start by taking a large hunk of beef that’s good for stewing (chuck roast works well). Count for about a third of a pound per person, and cut it into bite size cubes. Salt and pepper those chunks and put them in a pot of water so the water rises about an inch above the meat, and boil it. Once it’s at a boil, reduce it to a simmer, and skim off any scum that rises. Simmer them for about an hour, hour and a half.

While this is going, prep your vegetables. You can use anything that’s good for stewing, I used baby carrots (because we had no normal carrots), Brussels sprouts and broccoli, but I would use some potato or parsnip as well as some onions and mushrooms. Make it so you have roughly twice the amount of vegetables as meat.

When the meat is tender, dump your vegetables into the boiling water and let those cook for 15-20 minutes, or as long as they need to be cooked through. While they boil, you’re going to make a roux. This is the base for many many sauces and acts as a thickening agent. You do this by melting three tablespoons of butter in a pot and adding to that an equal amount of flour, and mixing it until the lumps are gone and the raw flour has cooked off. At this point you’re going to add your curry powder and continue mixing. 

Now you’re going to add in some of the stock you’ve been making with your meat and vegetables, one ladleful at a time, mixing after each ladleful to make sure all lumps are gone. Once you get the consistency you want, add in your seasonings, which are one grated apple, and one tablespoon of ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, and soy sauce each. Once seasoned, transfer all your meat and vegetables into the curry sauce.

Coat the meat and vegetables in the sauce, and serve it over rice. This will taste great with yogurt, parsley, pickled onions, sesame seeds, or anything else you like on top.

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