Sunday, March 9, 2008

Better than Leftovers - Kareiraisu

Part of the magic of bentos is the way they can make leftovers seem just as appetizing as the first time round. I've done my fair share of reheating leftovers in the company microwave, and I know how tedious it can be. Inspired by "Leftover Remake", over on Lunch in a Box, I've been casting a critical eye over my dinners to see how I can save money and time by re-working elements from dinner for the next day's lunch.

This week I was able to incorporate almost all of our dinners into the next day's lunch, something which really helped stretch our food budget before payday! This isn't always possible, because sometimes dinner doesn't really lend itself to being eaten at room temperature the next day (like pasta, for example), and sometimes we're so hungry that nothing survives the feeding onslaught.

The first success I had this week involved a bit of planning, but yielded a really delicious and filling lunch. I decided to make chicken kareiraisu from Elizabeth Andoh's "Washoku", a recipe which calls first for pan-frying marinaded chicken with curry powder before turning it into a thickly-sauced curry.

Curry rice is an extremely popular dish here, and one thing that I associate strongly with Japan is the smell of warm curry floating through the air at lunchtime. The most common way for curry to be made at home is from a roux, which can be bought in boxes in the supermarket. They usually come in a range of flavours and heat levels, but I find them a bit bland, too salty, and a bit heavy from the fat needed to make the roux thicken properly. When I saw the recipe for making it from scratch, I knew I had to try it. Although it took a bit more work and time than a boxed version, I was able to control the seasoning and oil myself, and it resulted in incredibly tender and flavourful chicken. I added a bit of fresh garam masala to the S & B curry powder, which made for a warm, ever so slightly sweet curry crust on the chicken. At this point, I set about a third of the chicken aside, to be put into the next day's bento.

The kareiraisu recipe calls for cooking cubed potatoes and carrots separately, before adding it to the pan-fried chicken together with some stock to make the final curry dish. I deliberately cooked more than was needed, and before adding them to the other ingredients, I set some of them aside to be mashed with mayonnaise (Kewpie, of course!) and a bit of minced onion for a potato salad. Creamy salad seems to find its way into a lot of bentos at the conbini and supermarket. While I doubt they're a traditional bento ingredient, I enjoy potato salad, and I knew the creaminess would provide a nice contrast to the spicy chicken.

By the time I was done, I not only had some pretty fabulous kareiraisu on the table, I also had two things ready to go for the next day's bento.

The next morning when I got up, I reheated some plain rice from the night before, sauteed some asparagus, and added the chicken and the potato salad, and lunch was made, with only the smallest resemblance to dinner the night before.


Canadian Bento said...

My man is really food safety conscious, so he's not very into bentos made out of leftovers - but that looks delicious! Yummers.

Canadian Bento said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
nakji said...

Yeah, that's a legitimate concern! The Japanese take their food safety quite seriously as well. There are lots of rules for bento making, but one of the key ones is that everything that goes in in the morning has to be reheated thoroughly before being packed, and the whole dish must be cooled down to room temperature before being covered, to discourage bacteria growth. Most traditional bento additions are heavily seasoned with soy or other seasonings as well, which helps to preserve it. You can also buy anti-bacterial sheets that go in the top of the bento to help prevent bacterial growth.

And of course, it goes without saying that your work surface should be very clean! I use tongs to place everything and have two pairs - one for meat, and one for everything else.

Of course, packing a microwavable bento is possible, too. Check out this model from Muji, which I believe is microwave safe: