The Super 88 may be the best food court in Boston, but in Cambridge that honor goes to the Porter Exchange and its collection of Japanese (and one Korean) eateries. One hole-in-the wall place there stands out from the rest: Cafe Mami. I have never been to the Exchange and seen the Cafe anything but packed full, with additional customers waiting for seats to become available.
Realizing that I’d never get a seat during the dinner rush, I took Miles there for lunch on one of his school half days. Miles ordered the tatsuta (fried chicken), and I ordered the hambaga suteki (hamburger steak with the mysterious wafu sauce), but we noticed all of the Japanese kids were ordering the katsu (pork) curry. Since the cafe specializes in hearty Japanese comfort food, I figured the curry must be the real deal. I resolved to order it on my next visit.
The setup: 1 pound ground pork, 3 tablesoons flour, 3 tablespoons butter, 1 cup chicken broth, 3 tablespoons curry powder (preferably S&B), 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce, 2 tablespoons tomato paste (the stuff in the tube is perfect for small amounts), 1 green apple, 1 mango, 3 cloves peeled garlic, 2 inch chunk of ginger, 1 onion, and 1 carrot.
I peeled and chopped the fruit and vegetables into chunks, which went into a food processor along with the tomato paste and Wooster sauce.
I pulsed it until I had a thick puree.
I melted the butter and added the pork, seasoning with salt and pepper. When it was good and browned, I added the flour and curry powder, cooking for five minutes until I had whet the recipe refers to as a “porky roux.” (Porky Roux – isn’t he one of the bartenders that serves hurricanes on Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras?)
I added the puree and chicken broth and cooked over low heat for about an hour. As the articles says: “Leave the resulting stew to cook, and then to cook some more. The result should be gooey, though not in a floury way, and sludgelike in only the most complimentary sense.”
Toward the end of the cooking time for the curry/sludge, I prepared the tonkatsu (pork cutlets). I started with thin-sliced cutlets from the market because I didn’t feel like pounding out thicker boneless chops. After seasoning with salt and pepper, I dipped the cutlets one at a time in beaten egg and then in panko bread crumbs. No matter how hard I try to keep one hand for dipping and the other for dredging, I always wind up with batter-covered club hand, which someday I’ll mistake for an extra cutlet. The real cutlets were ready:
Don’t prep them too far ahead of time; if you let them sit the breading will fall off when fried. Since I know the secret of cooking and comedy – timing – my cutlets fried up a treat:
For final assembly I plated some cooked short-grain rice and topped it with a generous helping of the curry sauce. I sliced the cutlets on the bias, laid them on top of the curry, drizzled some tonkatsu sauce over everything, and finally garnished with some cabbage (I only had purple) and scallions.
This is a very hearty dish. The curry has a definite afterburn, not too hot, but a pronounced spice kick. The crunchy cutlet and the cool cabbage work well against the heat. The sweetness provided by the tonkatsu sauce balances the rest of the flavors (and gives you something to sop up with the rice), don’t omit it.
Everyone liked this dish, even our guest for the evening:
This version of katsu curry is the second recipe I tried. The first recipe skips all of the preliminary prep work involved in making the curry, relying on a not-so-secret ingredient:
In addition to curry powder, S&B makes a curry sauce mix. After browning the pork along with a sliced onion, you break up the sauce block – which resembles a chocolate bar – into the pork and add 2 1/2 cups of water. From that point on the recipe is the same: cook until sludgy, fry cutlets, etc.
The curry made from the mix was pretty good, but a little one-dimensional. If you think you’ll be making this dish often, it’s worth having a box of the sauce mix on hand. It doesn’t cut down on the cooking time, but it saves a lot of prep work if you want a start-and-forget meal.
But I urge you to try the more authentic recipe first.