Everyone needs a good beef stew recipe in their repertoire for those cold nights after a long hard day’s work when you just need something super robust, filling, and hot to satisfy your hunger…. for some, this might mean a hearty Irish stew or the decadent boeuf bourguignon, but for many Japanese, the fallback is the meaty nikujaga.
Nikujaga literally means meat (niku) and potatoes (jaga being the shortened form of jagaimo). It was invented in the 19th century by chefs in the Imperial Japanese Army in an attempt to imitate the beef stew served in the British Royal Navy. A little salty and sweet, it generally contains thinly sliced beef, chunks of potatoes and carrots, wedges of onion, and shirataki noodles. Snowpeas are often added for a pop of colour.
This dish shows up often in anime, but while it isn’t generally mentioned by name, it can be found in a lot in scenes where home-style cooking is featured, such as Mawaru Penguindrum, Usagi Drop, Hetalia Axis Powers, The Idolm@aster, and Gintama!
About the recipe:
While simple to make, this dish manages to pack a lot of great flavour that soaks into the tender slices of beef, shirataki noodles, and chunks of soft potatoes, carrots, and onions. All that it really requires is a little time and patience. Nikujaga will require some initial prep work, but will spend most of the time just cooking away in the pot without much supervision. Just stir gently every so often to keep it evenly cooked. And, like all stews, it tastes even better the next day!
Here are a few tips for nikujaga:
Cut carrots in rolling wedges: this is a cutting technique used for hard root vegetables (such as carrots or burdock root) in which an angled cut is made every quarter turn. This results in uniformly cut vegetables with irregular cuts. The resultant multi-facetted vegetables give more surface area for any sauces or flavours to permeate.
Round off the edges of the potatoes: removing any sharp angles from the potatoes will discourage the potatoes from breaking up in the stew as they cook, making the sauce more cloudy than clear. Simply use a knife or vegetable peeler to shave off the edges of the pieces of potato.
Stir the stew gently: nikujaga cooks for a good while, which allows the flavour of the sauce to permeate all the ingredients. However, the vegetables (the potatoes in particular) tend to become fragile with all the cooking, and can start falling apart if stirred too vigorously.
About the ingredients:
Thinly sliced beef is used in this recipe because it cooks faster than chunks of beef. It can be bought pre-sliced from a store or a butcher may be able to slice it for you. If you slice it yourself, cut across the grain. Partially freezing the beef before cutting will help make the cuts thin. Lean ground beef is an easy substitute that is commonly used instead of sliced beef!
Shirataki noodles are konnyaku noodles made from devil’s tongue yam (also called konjac yam or elephant yam), and while they don’t taste like much, they soak up a lot of the sauce flavour and have an interesting texture. Shirataki noodles can be found in Asian grocery stores, usually in packages full of liquid, similar to the way tofu is kept. The noodles may be tied into small bunches or loose, and may be either white or black. For this recipe, the loose noodles are preferable. Since the noodles tend to be very long, cut them roughly in half after sliding them out of the package to make it easier to work with and distribute evenly throughout the stew.
Snow peas are a nice addition that simply adds a dash of colour to the dish. They’re not essential, so if you don’t want to, you don’t have to add them! To use, just remove the tough strings along the top edge of the vegetable. If you can’t find snow peas, regular green beans (blanch in boiling water, and slice into 1 inch pieces) or peas (add with the mirin) work well too.
Nikujaga (Japanese-style beef and potato stew)
Makes 4 servings
- 1 onion, cut into wedges
- 1 lb beef, thinly sliced
- 1 large carrot, cut into 1 inch rolling wedges
- 6 small yellow potatoes, peeled and cut into ~1.5 inch pieces
- 1 package shirataki (konnyaku) noodles, drained and cut in half
- 5 – 8 snowpeas, tough strings removed
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 1 cup dashi stock
- 5 tbsp (1/4 cup + 1 tbsp) Japanese soy sauce
- 2 tbsp sake
- 2 tbsp mirin
- Salt to taste
- Vegetable oil for the pan
1. Bring a small pot of water to a boil. Rinse shirataki noodles in cold water and drain. Add to the boiling water, and boil for 2 – 3 minutes to remove the konnyaku smell. Drain and set aside.
Peel and cut potatoes into 1 – 1.5 inch pieces. Round off the sharp corners of the potato using a knife or vegetable peeler. Soak in cold water until ready to use.
Bring a pot of salted water to boil. Add snowpeas and blanch until bright green, but still slightly crunchy, about 1 minute. Remove from the boiling water and place into an ice bath to stop the cooking process. Slice at a diagonal into thin strips. Set aside.
3. Heat vegetable oil in a large pot over medium heat until shimmering. Cook onions until translucent, about 5 – 8 minutes. Layer sliced beef over the onions, sprinkle sugar over top and cook, stirring occasionally until the beef is no longer red. Add potatoes, carrots, and shirataki noodles, and cook for an additional 5 minutes, or until the vegetables begin to soften slightly.
4. Add dashi stock, soy sauce, and sake. Bring to a low simmer. Skim off any foam that forms on the surface of the nikujaga using a spoon. Cook, occasionally stirring the stew gently, until the beef is tender, the potatoes are very soft, and most of the liquid has evaporated, about 45 – 60 minutes. Add mirin, stir gently to combine, and bring to a simmer briefly. Add salt to taste.
Serve with a bowl of rice on the side, and garnish the nikujaga with sliced snowpeas. Pairs well with miso soup.