Nikujaga is a quintessential Japanese comfort dish and one of the most classic home cooking meals. This aptly named dish is made primarily from the two ingredients that make up the name: meat (” niku “) and potatoes (” jaga imo”). The thin tender slices of beef are simmered together with potatoes, onions, and other vegetables in a sweet-soy broth creating a delightful blend of textures and tastes. With its rich flavours and heartwarming quality, it’s sure to instantly transport you to the cozy comforts of home.
Table of contents
What is Nikujaga ?
Nikujaga is a traditional and popular Japanese stew-like dish. The word “nikujaga” translates to “meat” (niku) and “potato” (jagaimo), which perfectly describes the main ingredients of this delicious dish. The thinly sliced beef and chunks of potatoes are simmered in a savoury-sweet broth along with onions and other vegetables. It’s a hearty and comforting Yoshoku (Western) style dish that originated during the Meiji era in Japan when Western cuisine started to influence local culinary traditions. Nikujaga is one of the most typical home-cooking dishes and a staple weekday meal since it’s super simple, satisfying, and easy. It’s something that Japanese mothers pass down from generation to generation and is often referred to as “Ofukuro no Aji” which means the taste of a mother’s cooking because its homely and comforting.
Key Ingredients for Nikujaga
Thinly sliced beef or pork : Different areas of Japan will use either beef or pork as the main protein component. I am from western Japan where beef is typically used and is what I’ve grown up eating. However, the choice between beef or pork depends on personal preference and dietary restrictions. Japanese meat is usually sliced very thinly which allows for even and quick cooking and better absorption of flavours.
Potatoes : Potatoes are an essential component of Nikujaga as they provide a rich and comforting texture to the dish. They absorb the flavors of the sauce during cooking, becoming soft and melt-in-your-mouth tender. The starch from potatoes also helps thicken the sauce slightly, giving it a luscious consistency.
Other vegetables : Nikujaga is a beef and potato stew so they are the two essential ingredients, the other vegetables are totally up to preference and what you have on hand. However the most commonly used vegetables are carrots, onions, snow peas, and green beans. To complete this comforting meal, some variations may include additional ingredients such as mushrooms or daikon radish.
Konnyaku noodle : Konnyaku noodles, also known as shirataki noodles or miracle noodles, are thin translucent noodles made from the konjac plant’s root. These gluten-free noodles are usually added to nikujaga for added texture and are a popular ingredient due to their low-calorie content and various health benefits.
Dashi and broth : The delicious broth for nikujaga includes soy sauce, mirin, sake, sugar, and dashi. Dashi is a traditional Japanese soup stock that forms the foundation of numerous dishes in Japanese cuisine including nikujaga. Its umami-rich flavor greatly enhances the overall taste profile of the dish and elevates it to another level of deliciousness.
Step-by-Step Preparation Guide for Nikujaga
Preparing the meat
I usually buy thinly sliced meats at Japanese grocery stores or Korean grocery stores. If you cannot buy ready-made thinly sliced meat then you can do it yourself. There is a trick to slicing meat very thinly and it’s to cut it when it is very cold nearly semi-frozen.
One of the key steps in preparing this dish is cutting the vegetables into bite-sized pieces. Cut the potatoes into chunks or wedges. Cut the carrots and other vegetables into small pieces and thinly slice the onions.
How to prepare the Konnyaku noodles
Konnyaku, is a popular diet food because of its dietary fibre of glucomannan and very low calories. However, it has quite a fishy odour and needs to be pre-cooked to remove this. Place 2 litres of water in a pot and bring the water to boil. Add the konjac noodle and cook for a few minutes. Turn the heat off and drain the boiling water. This will remove the smell.
How to Make Nikujaga
This step-by-step guide will help you recreate this traditional dish in your own kitchen.
- Prepare the Ingredients. Peel the vegetables and cut them into bite-sized pieces. Thinly slice the onion. Pre-boil the konnyaku, drain it, then set it aside. Ensure all ingredients are ready before starting to cook.
- Heat some vegetable oil in a large pot or deep skillet over medium heat. Add the onions, potatoes, and carrots to the pot and cook until the potatoes have become slightly translucent on the edges.
- Add the sliced beef (or pork) and sauté until browned on all sides.
- Add the dashi stock and bring it to boil.
- Remove any scum that appears on the surface then place a drop lid (otoshibuta) or an aluminium foil sheet with a hole on top of the ingredients. Leave it to simmer for around 15 minutes.
- Add the soy sauce, mirin, sake, and sugar.
- Add the konnyaku and green beans and simmer.
- When the vegetables have all cooked, turn off the heat. Allow nikujaga to sit for a few minutes before serving.
Tips for Enhancing Flavour and Presentation
- Choose the Right Cut of Meat: When it comes to nikujaga, thinly sliced beef or pork is traditionally used. The thin slices cook quickly and become tender when simmered in the sauce.
- Soak Potatoes Before Cooking: Once you have sliced the potatoes, soak them in cold water for about 10-15 minutes before adding them to the pot. This process helps remove excess starch from the potatoes and prevents them from sticking together during cooking.
Serving Suggestions and Pairings
The traditional way to enjoy this delicious Japanese dish is with a bowl of steamed white rice. The combination of tender meat, flavourful potatoes, and umami-rich broth perfectly complements the simplicity of steamed white rice. It creates a well-balanced meal that is both comforting and satisfying. To enhance your dining experience, you can also consider adding some additional elements to your meal. Here are a few serving suggestions and pairings that work well with nikujaga:
Miso Soup: Start your meal with a bowl of warm miso soup. Its savoury flavours will prepare your taste buds for the meal.
I hope you enjoy Nikujaga. If you can not remember the name of the dish, think about Mick Jagger 🤣 And if you liked Nikujaga, please rate this recipe and comment below!
A : While nikujaga may not be the healthiest option in terms of its high calorie and fat content, it can still be enjoyed as part of a balanced diet. With its combination of protein-rich meat and nutrient-packed vegetables, nikujaga provides essential nutrients like fibre.
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Nikujaga – Japanese Beef and Potatoes
- 150 g thinly cut beef *1
- 5 small potatoes or 350g
- 1/2 medium carrot or 90g
- 1 small onion or 130g
- 10 green beans
- 250 ml Dashi stock *2
- 3 tbsp sake
- 3 tbsp mirin
- 3 tbsp sugar
- 4 tbsp soy sauce
- 100 g Konnyaku noodle
- 1/2 tbsp oil
- Peel the potato and cut into irregular sized chunks. Round the corners off and soak in a bowl of water. *3
- Peel carrot and cut into 4 length wise, then slice it thinly.
- Peel and cut onion in half then thinly and diagonally.
- Trim both ends of green beans and cut into small pieces.
- Bring water to boil in a pot and cook Konnyaku to remove the fishy smell for a couple minutes. Drain the water and set aside.
- Heat oil in a pot over medium heat.
- Add onion, carrot and potato to cook.
- Once the onion, carrot and potato are coated with oil evenly and the edge of the potato become transparent, add the beef.
- When the beef colour has turned light brown, add the dashi stock and bring to boil.
- Remove all the scum from the top and put a sheet of aluminum foil, with a small hole cut in the middle, over the top. *4
- Simmer for about 15 minutes to cook until the potato has become soft.
- Add sake, mirin, sugar and soy sauce.
- Add Konnyaku and green beans and simmer until the sauce reduces a little bit.
- When the green beans colour has changed and cooked, turn the heat off and serve.