Did you know that niku-jaga (lit. meat & potatoes) is the Japanese take on beef stew?? A long long time ago, when foreign traders first came to Japan, Japanese people saw that they were eating beef stew, and they tried to imitate it using what was immediately available. It soon morphed into what we all know and love today as niku-jaga. I think everyone makes their niku-jaga a bit differently, much like how everyone makes their own particular style of curry, but here’s how I learned to make this classic pseudo-Japanese item.
You will need:
- 1 onion
- 2 carrots
- 4 or 5 new potatoes
- pork, finely chopped (the kind you might use for shabu-shabu would be OK for this)
- 7 ladles full of dashi (broth made from konbu and katsuo-bushi)
- 1 ladleful of soy sauce (I’ll explain this measurement in the directions)
- 1 ladleful of mirin
- 1 tablespoon of sugar
- Optional: konnyaku noodles, green peas, or 1 tablespoon sake
*NOTE* I am going to reiterate that I am pretty bad at gauging the measurements for what I cook. I usually just add things to a pan or pot and it just magically turns out to be something worth eating 80-90% of the time! So, when my friend Ko-chan taught me how to make niku-jaga he explained that it was all about this 7-1-1 ratio. The 7-1-1 could be basically anything, cups, half-cups, ladles, etc. Since I have a miniscule kitchen and even tinier cookware, we decided to go with using the ladle to make the measurements. Please adjust the amount of onion, carrot, potato, and pork as necessary in accordance with however large you choose to make the measurements in your 7-1-1 ratio.
First! Halve or dice your potatoes, depending on how big or small they are. Cut your carrots into large chunks. Dice your onion as well.
Then! measure 7 whatever-fulls of dashi into your cooking receptacle! I used a pot! After this, add your 1 whatever-full of soy sauce, then 1 whatever-full of mirin! Simmer this liquid. Add the 1 tablespoon of sugar and dissolve. Then, put all of your vegetables into the liquid and bring to a boil. If you want to add sake to your liquid to give it a bit of a drier sweetness, this is the time to add it. Once the liquid has begun to simmer, make sure to taste it to see if any one flavor is overpowering another! You may find that your mixture is too soy sauce-ey or could use a little more mirin or sugar. Perhaps the entire flavor is too strong, and you need to add more dashi. Who knows. Adjust as necessary!
In a separate pan, brown your pork with a little bit of oil. It doesn’t have to be totally cooked to death, since it is eventually going into the boiling pot of veggies.
Once your vegetables have come to a boil, reduce to a simmer and add the pork. At this stage, you are going to want to cover the pot with either a lid or tinfoil. I don’t know why, but for some reason, the tinfoil skims all of the pork grime off of the top of the liquid, whereas a regular lid will not. Either way, you will end up with delicious niku-jaga. Simmer this until the potatoes and the carrots are soft enough to be pierced with a fork. If you’d like to add konnyaku noodles (as pictured) or peas (mostly for a color contrast) this is when to add them.
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I know of some people who cook this stuff to death so that the liquid becomes entirely evaporated, but that isn’t really my style.. I like to have a little bit of the liquid remaining to keep everything in the bowl nice and happy and warm. I don’t usually drink it though, since there is a lot of salt in the soy sauce and (if I use the instant kind) dashi.
Let me know if you have your own take on niku-jaga. I’d be interested in knowing how you make it.
If you try this recipe, don’t' forget the 7-1-1 ratio!!!
serve steaming hot and enjoy!!!
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P.S.: Leftover niku-jaga makes for a very nice bento! I put some spinach dressed with sesame along with it, and some rice, of course.