How did we discover nikujaga if it’s not available in restaurants? There is an anime series on Netlix called Restaurant to Another World, and nikujaga is among the dishes featured.
Cooking nikujaga begins by sauteeing sliced onion and beef in sesame oil. When the beef loses its raw appearance, the liquids are poured in.
The cooking liquids are dashi, soy sauce, sake and mirin. Sugar is added for balance. Because that’s one of the secrets to this dish. Balance. Salty and sweet, but neither overwhelming the other.
When the beef is tender, the rest of the ingredients are added. Potato, shiitake, shirataki, carrot and snow peas. No typo there in case you tried to reread the last sentence. Shiitake and shirataki are two different things. One is a mushroom; the other is a noodle.
The second secret to nikujaga is flavor concentration. And that requires balance too. You want the cooking liquid to reduce to concentrate the flavors but you also need enough liquid to cook the vegetables and noodles in. So, if you need to add water, do so sparingly to avoid diluting the flavors. Ideally, the liquid should reduce down to a cup or less by the time the stew is done.
If there is still plenty of liquid by the time you’re adding the snow peas, turn up the heat and cook the snow peas uncovered to reduce the liquid some more.
Japanese beef and potato stew (nikujaga)
- 1 teaspoon sesame seed oil
- 1 large yellow onion peeled, halved and thickly sliced
- 500 grams beef brisket cut across the grain into ¼-inch thick slices
- 2 cups dashi
- ¼ cup Japanese soy sauce
- ¼ cup sake
- ¼ cup mirin
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 medium carrot peeled and cut into serving-size pieces
- 2 medium potatoes peeled and cut into serving-size pieces
- 8 medium shiitake stems discarded and caps cut into halves
- 500 grams shirataki
- 100 grams snow peas trimmed
- Heat the sesame oil in a thick-bottomed pan.
- Saute the sliced onion in the oil until translucent.
- Add the beef slices to the onion and cook, tossing occasionally, until no longer pink.
- Pour in the dashi, soy sauce, sake and mirin. Stir in the sugar. Bring to the boil, and allow to boil uncovered for five minutes.
- Lower the heat and cover the pan. Simmer the beef until tender. If the liquid dries out before the beef is done, pour in water, no more than half a cup each time.
- When the beef is tender, add the potatoes, carrot, shiitake and shirataki to the beef. Continue simmering until the carrot is tender (by that time, the potatoes and shiitake will be done too).
- Spread the snow peas on the stew. Cover the pan. Simmer for five minutes.
- Taste the stew. Add more soy sauce or sugar, or both, to balance the flavors.
- Divide the beef, potatoes, carrot, shiitake, shirataki and snow peas among four bowls. Ladle in the sauce and serve hot.