I have this image of the classic American brown-bag lunch: peanut butter and jelly sandwich with the crusts removed, a bag of pretzels or chips, sliced fruit, maybe a chocolate chip cookie. It’s been assembled by a frazzled mother and thrust into the hands of a child who will later barter the components at recess. I had my share of these food pyramid-friendly meals when I was in elementary school, but what really made me popular right around noontime (and only then – like Cinderella, I lost the magic after the clock struck twelve) was the fact that my mom would sometimes drop off McDonald’s Happy Meals for my sister and me. Yup, all part of a well-balanced diet!
The concept of calories was foreign to my parents – they grew up in the midst of the Cultural Revolution when food was scarce and a skinny physique was unavoidable. With any potential weight gain completely out of mind, our family frequented the fast food scene more often than anyone else in our area. Every time the principal called me down to pick up my greasy packets of nuggets and fries, the rest of the elementary school took envious notice. “Jessica’s Mom” thus became a highly respected celebrity amongst five to ten year olds in Wilmington, Delaware.
Later, when I was old enough to start using an oven sans supervision, my mom would buy frozen TGI Friday’s potato skins for my sister and me to reheat for summer lunches. Bursting with cheddar, bacon and a whole lot of chemicals, a single potato skin fills 25% of your daily sodium needs and 21% of your daily fat needs. Somehow, I’ve suffered zero health repercussions! – in those years I could probably metabolize nails without a hitch.
I don't miss the McDonalds, but there's something about crispy potato skins that I continue to crave to this day. These Japanese curry-loaded versions strike a satisfying middle ground. Japanese curry is spicy in a much more approachable way than Indian curry, with grated apple bringing in a bright sweetness to round everything out. The potato soaks up this flavor and is the perfect vehicle for the thick, rich sauce. I loaded mine with slow-braised short rib but chicken and pork (especially katsu!) would work as well. My kind of happy meal!
Japanese Curry Potato Skins Recipe (makes 6)
- 3 medium baked potatoes
- 1 - 1 1/2 lbs beef short ribs, bone in
- 2 tbsp S&B curry powder
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 - 2 tbsp flour
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 tbsp fresh ginger
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 fiji apple, peeled and grated
- 1 carrot, cut into wedges
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- To serve: chopped boiled egg, cheese, grated carrot and cabbage, sauteed (optional)
Prepare the curry: This can be done in advance. First, heat oil in a pan over high heat. Sear the short ribs well on each side (1-2 minutes) until browned, then set aside. Toast the curry powder and tomato paste in the remaining oil and juices over medium heat; add the flour and stir until a paste forms. Add the onions and saute until they are translucent and fragrant, around 5 minutes. Then add in ginger and garlic and saute for another minute or so. Add the chicken stock, soy sauce, bay leaf, and grated apple and bring to a boil. Place the short ribs into the pan and lower the heat down to medium low. Simmer for around 2 hours, adding in the carrots before the last hour. Meat should be quite tender and come off the bone easily. Chop the meat into bite size chunks.
Prepare the potatoes: Scoop most of the potato out of the skins with a spoon, leaving around 1/4 inch of potato around the edges. Brush them with olive oil and salt and fill them with the curry and meat mixture.
Bake and serve: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake for 15 minutes. Serve topped with any of the following toppings: chopped boiled egg, cheese, sauteed cabbage and carrot.