Cousin Hannah brought her friend from college with her for a weekend visit who happens to be a foreign exchange student from Japan; and knowing that I’m half-Japanese, she promptly requested a meal to remind her of home as soon as I offered to make her anything she wanted for dinner – it was nikujaga.
Niku means meat and jaga means potato, this dish is simply the Japanese version of meat and potato stew. It changes regionally and from household to household but the same basic flavors shine through – just the amounts of each ingredient tend to change slightly. The add-in’s also change and for fun, we added fish cakes (takebue chikuwa) , black yam cakes (kuro konnyaku), something that we just happened to find out recently that we could finally get in the UK and tofu.
For those shopping for fresh, fridge and freezer Japanese foods in the UK and don’t know of an Asian shop that stocks Japanese ingredients or don’t have one, Japan Centre offers shipping of these items out of their main store in London. They do a great job with delivery and offer the widest range of items that I have managed to find in the UK so far, which is pretty difficult considering of the various Asian populations, Indian & Thai people are the most widely represented.
This was a great opportunity for me to break out a small Japanese-English cookbook that I received for my birthday last year from my aunt. She knows that I love to cook, that I cook and bake very often, if not daily, and with the varying degree of amounts of base ingredients that go into all the Japanese soup bases and sauces, that this cookbook -offering each recipe both in English with non-metric measures and Japanese with metric measures, would be hit with me! Often, my mother cooks by taste, and I find that even with a recipe, I adjust the taste to what I like and remember from my childhood, so really it’s a guide to get me started in the right direction and it’s fantastic!
Needless to say, this meal went over like gangbusters! Cousin Hannah was exposed to new tastes that she had never had before, her friend from school literally “died and went to heaven” having a bit of home while being miles and miles away from her family, and we all enjoyed breaking out the dinner table and eating as a “family” together. Mei really enjoyed this meal, especially all the bits without the “soup” part. I hope this will all help her to develop her palate to eat a variety of foods from a variety of cultures and never to shy away from anything new.
This is an incredibly easy, heart-warming dish perfect for large gatherings and for cold nights. I simply pair this with fresh, steamed rice although you can make any variety of veggie sides you desire. Japanese meals are often served with a variety of tiny side dishes, including pickled veggies, steamed veggies, veggie salads, etc so that you can eat what you like with the main course so don’t feel limited in your spread when making a Japanese entree!
Ingredients: (to serve four)
- 200 g thinly sliced beef
- 2 medium onions
- 600g or 4 large potatoes (I used small, new potatoes)
- 1 C (200ml) dashi
- 5 TBS soy sauce
- 2 TBS mirin
- 4 TBS sugar
- 1 TBS sake
- 1 TBS vegetable oil
- any additional mix-in’s you like, other veggies are encouraged to be made as side dishes
First, peel the potatoes and cut each into six pieces. Soak them in water for 5-6 minutes then drain them well. Cut the onions into six, equal wedges. Slice the beef into bite-sized, very thin slices.
Next, heat the oil over medium heat in a tall frying pan. Add the potatoes and fry them until their surfaces are transluscent and a bit colored. Add the onions and beef and continue to fry the ingredients just until they gain some color or the onions just begin to turn transluscent.
Add the dashi, soy suace, mirin, sugar and sake then simmer. Skim the surface as any debris and foam forms then put a drop-lid on. You want the lid to be smaller than the surface of the pan, covering most of the ingredients but not completely. The lid will rest on top of the potatoes. Simmer until the potatoes are easily pierced with the tip of a knife. Turn off the heat and let it stand a couple of minutes before serving.
This dish is typically served in a large serving bowl or straight from the pan, each person taking as much as they like as they eat their meal.