A staple in Japanese cooking, nikujaga is a delicious Japanese dish made primarily from two main ingredients: meat (niku) and potatoes (jagaimo). It is mainly cooked during the weekday because it is so easy and quick to cook. It is also a dish that tastes even better the next day.
What is nikujaga?
Nikujaga (肉じゃが) (meaning meat-potato) is a Japanese beef stew. This is a dish that is high in energy, low on prep time and very tasty. Once you get the gist of what it tastes like, it is one of those recipes that you can make without using an actual recipe.
Nikujaga is generally made up of a meat, potatoes and onions stewed in a sweetened soy sauce and dashi broth, with vegetables. The potatoes make up a bulk of the dish, while the meat serves as flavor. While beef is traditionally used, in the western part of Japan, pork is often used instead. Today, it is a staple dish in many homes and a popular item at taverns across Japan.
What is the origin of nikujaga?
The story about how nikujaga was invented is quite fascinating. It all started in Maizuru, a city in Kyoto Prefecture that was the site of an Imperial Japanese Navy base from 1901 to 1945 and is currently host to the district headquarters of the Maritime Self Defense Force.
The story that Tōgō Heihachirō ordered naval cooks to create a version of the beef stews served in the British Royal Navy was devised as part of an ongoing campaign beginning in 1895 to promote the city of Maizuru, Kyoto, where Tōgō was stationed, and therefore became the birthplace of nikujaga.
The municipal government of Kure, Hiroshima, responded in 1998 with a competing claim that Tōgō commissioned the dish while serving as chief of staff of the Kure naval base.
Group member Setsuko Iba took it upon himself to “complete” the Maizuru-style nikujaga, adding green peas and carrots to the original ingredients of beef, konnyaku, potatoes and onions, as described in the navy cook book. In 1997, the city government promoted a food festival with the claim that nikujaga originated in Kure.
Now when people hear that Kure was a naval port, they associate it with nikujaga and how it was born in the kitchens of the imperial navy.
What is dashi?
Dashi is an incredibly simple broth, and it forms one of the culinary cornerstones of Japanese cooking.
Dashi (出汁, だし) is a class of soup and cooking stock used in Japanese cuisine. Dashi forms the base for miso soup, clear broth, noodle broth, and many kinds of simmering liquid to accentuate the savory flavor as umami. Dashi is also mixed into flour base of some grilled foods like okonomiyaki and takoyaki.
Usually, it is possible to find pre-made dashi in local Asian markets. However, it is also very simple to make at home.
The most common form of dashi is a simple broth or fish stock made by heating water containing edible kelp and bonito shavings to near-boiling, then straining the resultant liquid.
If bonito is not available, dried anchovies or sardines may be substituted. The element of umami, one of the five basic tastes, is introduced into dashi from the use of katsuobushi (bonito) and kombu (kelp). Katsuobushi is especially high in sodium inosinate and kombu is especially high in glutamic acids; both combined create a synergy of umami.
Homemade dashi is less popular today, even in Japan. Compared to the taste of homemade dashi, instant dashi tends to have a stronger, less subtle flavor, due to the use of chemical flavor enhancers.
Nikujaga is a very common winter dish in Japan. It is such a delightful dish to eat, with a bowl of piping hot steamed rice. It’s one of those dishes that carries both a sweet and savory taste. Nikujaga is one of those dishes commonly referred to as “Mother’s cooking”. It means something that’s simple, homely, filling, and invokes strong feelings of nostalgia. In Japanese, this is called ofukuro no aji (mother’s flavor). Nikujaga is one of the mainstays of Japanese-style mother’s cooking.
Can you make nikujaga in a slow cooker or instant pot?
You can use the slow cooker setting on your rice cooker or instant pot to simmer your sliced beef and potatoes to perfection.
If you love meat and potatoes, this is absolutely delicious and I can assure you that your family will enjoy it.
- 1 large onion cut into 10 quarters
- 1 small carrot cut lengthways, then sliced
- 2 medium white potatoes quartered
- ½ lb beef thinly sliced
- 3 oz. shirataki noodles
- 1 oz. peas
- 1 oz. snap peas
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 cup dashi broth
- 4 tablespoons mirin
- 4 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons sake
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- Cook the peas and the snap peas for 30 seconds in a large pot with boiling water. Drain.
- Rinse and drain the shirataki noodles. Then, cook in a large pot with boiling for 1 minute. Drain.
- In a large Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat and cook the onion for 2 minutes.
- Add the meat and sauté until it is no longer pink.
- Add the potatoes, carrots and shirataki noodles.
- Ingredients should be placed in the Dutch oven on a single layer, very flat, and without mixing.
- Add the dashi broth, mirin, sake, soy sauce and sugar and bring to a boil over high heat.
- After 1 minute, lower the heat and cover with a traditional lid (or otoshi buta) and cook over medium heat for 20 minutes.
- Skim from time to time if necessary and make sure all the ingredients are covered with broth.
- Do not mix the ingredients while cooking.
- Turn off the heat and let stand for 30 minutes.
- Just before serving, add the peas and the snap peas and reheat.