A delicious vegan katsu curry made from smoked tofu in crispy panko breadcrumbs, with a creamy coconut curry sauce.
One of my favourite places to eat lunch when we're out and about is Wagamama. Such good Japanese / Asian food... totally packed with flavour, loads of vegan options, quick and easy, and the kids love it - all boxes ticked. But it is always so difficult to choose what to have - noodles or katsu curry?
'Katsu' means cutlet, and refers to what is usually chicken, coated in crispy panko breadcrumbs and deep-fried. But this smoked tofu version is every bit as moist and flavourful. Let's face it - you can coat anything in crispy golden breadcrumbs, slather in a creamy curry sauce and it is going to taste pretty epic!
This isn't exactly health-food... I do give some instructions below for making this in an air-fryer or baking in the oven, but there's something extra special about a fried version and if this is an occasional treat, I say go for it!
In early 2020 Wagamama shared a version of their katsu sauce recipe on Instagram and I have to say I've stuck pretty closely to it, with just a few tweaks. Sometimes I add a carrot for good measure, which you can do too for a few extra vitamins!
I then tested a few different ways of sticking the breadcrumbs to the tofu - chickpea (gram) flour and water, aquafaba, but in fact a simple batter of flour and plant milk was the easiest and crispiest, and the most likely to be already in your cupboards.
What you need to make your vegan katsu curry
Extra-firm smoked tofu Getting the right kind of tofu is really important to the success of this katsu curry. And there are so many different types of tofu out there with not-very-helpful labelling, it can be a bit of a minefield!
You're looking for extra-firm tofu which is usually found in the chiller cabinets at supermarkets, (tofu which is sold not chilled is usually silken tofu, which won't work here).
My favourite brand of tofu is ToFoo, as it is pretty much ready-to-cook, with no pressing or waiting around required. You do still need to pat it dry, but it doesn't need pressing.
If you buy another brand like Cauldron, you will need to press it beforehand. There's a handy guide here from the BBC about how to do that.
Dairy-free milk Pretty much any dairy-free milk will work well here, just try to make sure it is unsweetened if possible, for a more savoury flavour. You can also use water instead of plant milk if you prefer, all you need is a basic batter for the breadcrumbs to stick to.
Panko breadcrumbs Whilst I often make my own breadcrumbs, saving crusts of bread in the freezer then popping them all into the food processor whenever I have it out, for this recipe I really do recommend getting hold of some proper panko breadcrumbs if you can.
They are a Japanese-style breadcrumb that is much lighter and airier than homemade breadcrumbs, and therefore they absorb less grease and become so much crispier - they really make this katsu curry super-special.
Rapeseed or sunflower oil for shallow frying These oils are good for shallow (or deep) frying as they are stable at high temperatures, and are also pretty flavourless.
Garlic and ginger Depending on what you have to hand and how much time you have available, you can use fresh garlic and ginger, or ready-chopped from a jar or tube - the choice is yours.
Turmeric gives the sauce its deep yellow colour, but beware it does stain anything it touches, so be careful once you've added it to the sauce!
Curry powder Katsu is traditionally quite a mild curry sauce, but it is up to you whether you add mild, medium or hot curry powder. I tend to use medium as I like a bit of heat, or else I use garam masala instead with no heat at all if I'm making this for the kids.
Coconut milk This is tinned coconut milk rather than the stuff you get in a carton. Use either full-fat or light as you prefer, there is little difference in the finished sauce.
Lime, spring onions, fresh coriander, sesame seeds You can garnish your katsu curry however you like. For me, spring onions and lime are a must and the others are nice if I have them handy, but it is entirely up to you!
A few things I find particularly helpful for making this katsu curry are:
- Kitchen thermometer This really takes a lot of the fear out of shallow-frying for me, (see below!). I have a thermometer from Thermapen (which was a gift - see sponsored recipe here) which I really love, but any kitchen thermometer will be fine. This allows you to get the oil up to the correct temperature for frying, then monitor it as you cook in case it rises or drops.
- Tongs A good pair of tongs are very useful for getting the tofu in and out of the hot oil... please be careful! I like these from OXO.
- Lidded frying pan A good quality frying pan that is fairly deep is important for shallow frying. Always make sure you have a tight-fitting lid close by, so if your oil was to start smoking or a fire started, you could immediately remove it from the heat and put the lid on. I like this lidded sauté pan from Circulon.
- Stick blender This is the easiest way to blitz your katsu sauce to a smooth and silky purée, no pouring into a blender, just stick it in the pan and blitz. Mine is by Dualit and has served me well for many years, but any good quality stick blender will do the job well.
Scared of shallow frying?
I am! Anything involving a pan of hot oil gives me the heebie-jeebies, but it doesn't need to be scary. Here are a few top tips:
- Use just 1-2cm oil, and make sure it comes no more than half way up the sides of the pan, so there is room for it to bubble up the sides.
- Check the oil temperature as it heats, and whilst cooking - it should stay close to 180°C / 350°F. See above for a recommended thermometer.
- Use long-handled tongs or a large slotted spoon to get your tofu in and out of the oil, and allows excess oil to drain.
- Don't fry very wet food to avoid splatters. Make sure your tofu is patted dry.
- Don't leave hot oil unattended even for a moment, and keep kids out of the kitchen.
- Keep a close-fitting lid close by, in case the oil should catch fire. If you don't have a lid, a baking tray would do.
To dispose of the cooking oil, please don't pour it down the sink or drain - it can cause serious blockages. Small quantities of oil can be disposed of with your food waste, or you can recycle larger quantities at household recycling centres in the UK.
Can I cook the crispy tofu in an air fryer or in the oven?
Yes - this crispy tofu will work well in either, (though the fried version is particularly good!).
To get a crispy, golden crust in an air fryer or baked version, you will need to add some oil to the panko breadcrumbs. I find the easiest way to do that is to spray them quite liberally with cooking spray, toss them around and keep spraying until they are well coated in oil. Or if you don't have spray, you can put the breadcrumbs into a bowl with some oil and toss them around.
Once you have battered and crumbed the tofu, it will need more oil sprayed over both sides before cooking.
To cook in an air-fryer: Preheat the fryer to 200°C / 390°F, grease the inner basket, and place the tofu fillets inside. Air-fry until crispy.
To bake in the oven: Preheat the oven to 200°C (fan) / 400°F / Gas Mark 6. Bake for 20-25 minutes, turning half way through cooking, until crispy and golden.
Freezing your vegan katsu curry
Both the katsu sauce and the cooked crispy tofu freeze well, so this is perfect for batch-cooking as it is quite a lot of work for dinner for two, but not much more work to put another four portions in the freezer!
You can defrost the sauce straight from frozen in the microwave or a small saucepan, however the crispy tofu does need to be defrosted in advance, then cooked in the oven.
I make up quite big batches of this sauce, and freeze it in individual portions. My kids go crazy for katsu curry, (blame Wagamama!), and I often give them shop-bought vegan chicken dippers with rice, katsu sauce and green veg for dinner - they love it and it is so easy to throw together on a busy weeknight.
For more quick and easy vegan recipes take a look at my latest book Vegan in 15.
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Vegan Katsu Curry
For the crispy tofu:
- 280 g extra-firm smoked tofu (I used Tofoo)
- 60 g plain flour
- 100 ml unsweetened dairy-free milk
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- 100 g panko breadcrumbs
- rapeseed or sunflower oil for shallow frying
For the katsu sauce:
- 2 tbsp rapeseed or sunflower oil
- 1 onion
- 1 tsp ready-chopped garlic (or 1-2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed)
- 2-3 cm fresh ginger (or 2 tsp ready-chopped ginger from a jar or tube)
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 2 tbsp curry powder (mild, medium or hot - as you prefer)
- 1 tbsp plain flour
- 250 ml vegetable stock
- 150 ml coconut milk
- 1 tsp soy sauce
- 1 tsp light brown sugar
To serve (optional):
- sliced spring onions
- fresh coriander
- sesame seeds
For the crispy tofu:
- Remove the tofu from its packaging, pat it dry with kitchen paper and squeeze out any excess moisture, then slice it into three large, flat slices.
- Pat each slice dry with kitchen paper, then set them aside to dry out further.
For the sauce:
- Heat the oil in a deep frying pan or casserole. Finely chop the onion, garlic and ginger and add them to the pan. Cook gently to soften.
- Add the turmeric and curry powder, and cook for a further minute at a gentle heat, then stir through the plain flour.
- Add the vegetable stock a little at a time, stirring well so no lumps of flour remain.
- Bring the sauce to a gentle simmer, then add the coconut milk, sugar and soy sauce. Let the sauce bubble gently for 10-15 minutes then turn off the heat and set aside to cool.
For the crispy tofu:
- Meanwhile, prepare the batter for the tofu by mixing the plain flour, dairy-free milk and soy sauce in a small bowl. Whisk well until no lumps remain.
- Pour the batter into a plate or shallow bowl, and tip the panko breadcrumbs into another plate or bowl.
- Take one slice of tofu, and dip it in the batter on both sides until it is fully coated. Lift it out and shake gently so the covering of batter is fairly thin.
- Place it straight into the plate of panko breadcrumbs, then cover it, pushing down gently so they stick all over it.
- Set aside and repeat for the remaining tofu slices.
- Pour oil about 2cm deep into a deep frying pan, and heat it for shallow frying. If you have a kitchen thermometer, it needs to get to 180°C / 350°F. If you don't have a thermometer, combine some leftover batter and breadcrumbs and drop a small spoonful into the oil. If it sizzles and turns brown within about 20-30 seconds, the oil is ready.
- When the oil is hot enough, carefully add one or two slices of tofu. Don't crowd the pan - it is best to cook one or two at a time, rather than all three. Let them cook for a minute or two then turn over to the other side.
- Keep cooking and turn occasionally until they are golden and very crispy - ideally about 2-3 minutes on each side. If they are cooking too quickly, turn the heat down a little.
- When they are cooked, remove them to a piece of kitchen paper and set aside. Remove the oil from the heat, and let it cool completely.
To finish the sauce:
- Pour the sauce into a blender or food processor, or use a stick blender to blitz it to a very smooth purée. If you can't get it as smooth as you like, you can pass it through a fine sieve, (though use a metal sieve if you can, or it may be stained by the turmeric).
- Return the sauce to the pan to heat through. Slice the tofu into thick slices, and serve with rice, with plenty of katsu sauce. Sprinkle with fresh coriander, finely sliced spring onion, sesame seeds and a generous squeeze of lime.