Nikujaga—warm up with Japanese-style comfort food!

Nikujaga, literally meaning meat-potato, was invented by the Japanese Imperial Navy in the late 19th century. It is believed to be the Japanese take on British beef stew. Today, I think it’s safe to say nikujaga is one of the most frequently home-cooked dishes in Japan. Historically, carrots, onions, and potatoes have been easily found in the freezing winter months and are especially good at warming our bones from the inside out—just like firewood in the good old stove.

Sukiyaki-cut, thinly sliced tender wagyu beef is normally used for this dish.  I normally buy beef tendon from a local butcher. Adding boiled beef tendon makes this dish economical and very flavorful. Of course, you can use fatty wagyu beef if you it is available in your country. But, you do not have to use beef tendon to make this dish. This is the Ozeki way—we believe beef tendon adds extra flavour to the water and vegetables. This beefed-up nikujaga dish is complimented nicely with red wine. Alternately, like people in Miyazaki Prefecture, you may use chicken thigh meat for this dish, as the skin adds a nice flavour to the vegetables.

Nikujaga pairs nicely with freshly cooked rice. If you serve a large bowl of freshly cooked rice topped with nikujaga, it is called nikujaga-don.

Alright, let’s get started!


Nikujaga 肉じゃが, braised beef and new season potatoes                                                 

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 200g beef tendon (optional)
  • 200g thinly sliced beef (preferably wagyu sukiyaki cut, or top blade steak)
  • 4 potatoes
  • 2 large onion
  • 2 carrots
  • 2-3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 100g shirataki (optional, thin white noodles made from konnyaku devil’s tongue)
  • 20 snow peas, green beans or broad beans

      For broth

  • reuse the water from cooking beef tendon. If you do not use beef tendon, just use water. You can also use 2nd dashi stock (ni-ban dashi).
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 tablespoons sake
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce (koikuchi or dark soy sauce)

Please note that the amount of the sugar and soy sauce may vary each time you cook this dish. You may need more or less. Trust your own taste buds.

Method

  1. Cook beef tendon in water, covered, on medium heat for one hour, or until tender. (I normally cook beef tendon with water in a pressure-cooking saucepan for 15 minutes.)
  2. Cut boiled tendon into bite-size pieces.
  3. Wash potatoes, scrub skin with a brush (we use tawashi, turtle-shell shaped brush) and cut into large bite-size pieces. Do the same with carrots.
  4. Peel onion and cut lengthwise into 6 wedges.
  5. Cut thinly sliced beef into large bite size.
  6. Boil shirataki for a few minutes, rinse in cold water and drain well. Cut into 10cm long pieces.
  7. In a saucepan coated with vegetable oil, stir fry beef, potatoes, carrot, and onion.
  8. Add water or 2nd dashi stock (niban-dashi) to cover the ingredients.
  9. Bring to a boil on high heat and skim the froth. Keep cooking until the vegetables are tender.
  10. Add shirataki, sugar and sake and keep cooking on medium heat with an otoshi-buta* for about 5 minutes.
  11. Add soy sauce and keep boiling until the broth is almost gone. Serve with blanched snow peas or green beans.

* otoshi-buta is a flat wooden lid that is slightly smaller than the width of the pot being used. It sits directly on top of the contents, pushing them down, while still allowing water to evaporate. Alternatively, you can use a slightly smaller pot lid or aluminium foil shaped into a circle.

 

Chef’s Tip  

Normally, I cook the nikujaga until the broth is almost gone, but I suggest you do not when cooking on a freezing evening. The remaining broth creates what I call soup-nikujaga. 

I normally use a pressure cooking pot to boil 1kg beef tendon in enough water to cover the tendon. I cook it for 15 minutes and let it cool until the sets. I then remove and discard the fat, and cut tendon into bite-sized pieces and pack them into freezer bags along with the tasty cooked water. I store them in the freezer for future use.

For vegans, you can use namayuba and fu instead of beef. Namayuba is freshly made soy milk product and is available at Asahiya Tofuten in Mino City and Yubayu in Gifu City. Fu is a wheat flour-based gluten product and is sold at Yubayu in Gifu City. Yuba or other tofu products are readily available in Kyoto.


You wouldn't know it with this weather, but spring is slowly creeping in. Next time on the blog, I will be featuring Sawara no Mizoreni, a dish included in the special monthly workshop I am holding in Tokyo tomorrow. The Spanish Mackerel used for the recipe is packed with healthy omega oils, and is so tender it melts in your mouth.

Make sure you check back soon!

copyright © 2013 Shuji Ozeki