a lot of people like to generalize about japanese cuisine when it comes to heat. most people assert that “japanese people can’t handle spicy foods,” and for the most part, i would agree with them. but i am also of the firm opinion that we (those of us who hail from countries like the usa and canada) have a completely different concept of what “spicy” means.
we are friendly neighbors with central and south america, which means that for a lot of americans, our first introduction to spiciness is through foods like pickled jalapenos and hot sauce. because both contain spicy chili oils, they leave a lasting capsaisin-based burning sensation in your mouth. japan, on the other hand, regularly consumes foods like wasabi and ginger, which have a very fresh, short-lived, and intense heat akin to horseradish that builds up in the sinuses. both chilis and wasabi are spicy, just in different ways. sure, most japanese people would cry if they ate a raw jalapeno, but i think most americans would cry if they took a bite out a wasabi radish, too. if you ask me, it depends on what you are used to.
still, capsaisin-based spicy foods can be a little hard to find in japan. most options for true raging heat come from korea, japan’s neighbor across the sea. gochujang and doubanjiang are great options to kick up the heat a little bit when cooking, and i regularly implement them when making salad dressings. but because they are imported foods, they can tend to drive up the price of your dish a little more than you want sometimes.
my staple when i comes to spice is good old fashioned piri piri (a.k.a. capsicum frutescens, african bird’s eye peppers). during the summer months, these little guys can occasionally be found fresh in huge plastic wrapped bouquets for a pittance in most japanese grocery stores. in the non-summer months, they can also be purchased in small packages pre-dried and just as potent.
and it is these piri piris to which today’s lamb curry owes its rage. if you have a pace-maker or chronic acid-reflux disease, you may want to navigate away from this page right now. just reading the recipe could be dangerous to your health.
raging lamb curry
- lamb (fatty is better, in my opinion)
- one onion
- six cloves of garlic
- a can of stewed tomatoes
- black pepper
- piri piris (or any dried extra spicy red pepper)
- one carrot
- three new potatoes
- one red bell pepper
- spicy curry roux
- most stews call for your meat to be cut into cubes. i won’t lie to you and say you can’t do that with this curry, but i will tell that i prefer to cut my lamb into irregular pieces. i tend to cut long thin pieces with a super sharp knife, as they stew much faster than large chunks of stew meat. remember, leave the fat on. it will render while you stew the lamb and make for a nice, healthy layer of thick animal fats. mmm mmm, good. set your lamb aside.
- peel and mince your onion and garlic. set them aside, too.
- add a little bit of oil to a pan, and bring it to medium high heat. pour some flour and a little black pepper onto a plate. dredge each piece of lamb in the flour mixture and place it in the hot oil. brown the lamb on both sides doing your best not to cook it all the way through. once about halfway done, add the minced garlic and onions and simmer for a while until they are soft. kill the heat.
- place the contents of the pan into a large pot, making sure to scrape any remaining tasty seared bits of lamb fat for extra flavor.
- peel the skin from the carrot and discard it. then, peel the whole carrot into ribbons. slice the pile of ribbons into very thin strips. add them to the pot.
- remove the core, stem, and seeds from the red bell pepper and cut it as you see fit. i tend to prefer short strips or a course chop. add them to the pot, too.
- use medium low heat to sautee the contents of the pot until the carrots and bell pepper are close to being soft.
- while the veggies are sauteeing, wash the potatoes and remove the skins. cut them into larger than bite-sized chunks, making sure to remove any bruises or irregularities in the flesh. nothing is worse than ruining a good batch of curry with a few nasty potatoes.
- chop four or five piri piris into small rounds. make sure not to touch your eyes or go to the bathroom immediately after, as those oils can really give you a raucous chemical burn if you aren’t careful. wash your hands with lots of soap or lemon juice.
- add the can of tomatoes, chilis, and potatoes to the pot. throw in a little bit of black pepper, too. it can’t hurt at this point, right?
- cover, bring the heat as low as it will possibly go, and let that baby stew for an hour or so. test the meat and potatoes for tenderness every now and again. when the lamb reach the “melt in your mouth” stage, you are good to go.
- take off the lid, kill the heat, remove the pot from the burner, and add your curry roux a little bit at a time. remember, (just like the kabocha curry) this curry will be plenty thick and chock-full of flavor. the purpose of the roux is to thicken and provide some bonus curry taste, not to eclipse all the other ingredients you worked so hard to prepare.
- go to town with some nan or a great big bowl of rice. this stuff is also excellent on pasta. just remember to drink some milk for the sake of your tummy-tum.