In the winter, there is nothing I crave more than a hearty stew. A few weeks ago, I made cassoulet for the first time since culinary school over a decade ago. It was, despite being a 2-day long endeavor for shopping and cooking, was soooo worth the effort, not least because I celebrated the occasion with a very hyggelig cassoulet party. Beef bourguignon, coq au vin, chicken adobo, red-cooked beef, Japanese braised pork belly, and Vietnamese claypot chicken are other hearty braises that I cook over and over in the winter. My Dutch oven barely gets a break.
Today, I'll add another stew to the braised meats recipe collection on this site: Japanese beef and potato stew (Nikujaga). Actually, a more correct term would be a potato stew with beef flavor, since it uses just one pound of meat, considerably less than most stews. The beef is meant to add flavor to a very rustic, hearty stew that you can whip up in about 40 or 50 minutes, including prep time.
Kamikoto, known for their hand-crafted Niigata steel knives, recently sent me a set of Kanpeki Knife Set to try, which includes a meat cleaver, a long slicing knife, and a utility knife. The sharp blade of the cleaver was extra helpful in cutting paper-thin slices of beef, and the utility knife was perfect for thinly slicing the onions and trimming those potatoes.
The only ingredient in this recipe that might be a little difficult to find are shirataki noodles. Made with yam starch, these light gluten-free noodles have a slippery texture and absorb the flavors of a stew like extra thin sponges. Unlike wheat noodles, you can throw them into your stew without worrying about all the excess starch that will cloud up your broth. If you can't find shirataki, good ol' rice is also great for soaking up that delicious sake- and mirin-infused broth.
As for what to drink with it, sake, cider, and robust beers are all good choices. And like almost all stews, nikujaga tastes better a day or two later, so enjoy those leftovers!
Japanese Beef and Potato Stew (Nikujaga)
- 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 medium onions, sliced
- 1 pound potatoes, cut into large chunks
- 1/2 pound carrots, peeled and cut into large pieces
- 4 cups dashi* (see recipe below), or substitute beef, chicken, or vegetable stock
- 1/2 cup sake
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 1/4 cup mirin
- 1 package shirataki, drained and rinsed
- 6 ounces green beans, trimmed and cut into 2-inch segments
- 1 pound well-marbled beef such as boneless beef short rib, cut into 1/4-inch thick slices or thinner
- Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large pot of Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Sauté the onions for 3 to 4 minutes until translucent. Add the potatoes and carrots and stir for another 1 minute. Add the dashi, sake, soy sauce, and mirin. If the mixture is not yet covered by the liquid, add enough water to cover. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 20 minutes uncovered.
- In another pan, add the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil. Add the beef and sauté until cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer the beef and juices in the pan to the large pot with the other ingredients. Add the shirataki and green beans. Simmer for another 10 to 15 minutes uncovered until the potatoes and carrots are tender. Season to taste with extra salt if needed. Transfer to a large bowl and serve.
Makes about 4 cups
- 1 two-inch piece kombu
- 2 cups loosely packed bonito flakes
- In a medium pot, heat the kombu with 4 cups water to a bare simmer. Turn off the heat and add the bonito flakes. After 10 minutes, strain out the kombu and bonito flakes and reserve the dashi.