The ExPat Returneth

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

"Quick & Dirty" Nikujaga: Japanese Meat and Potatoes

Last night's Nikujaga.
My potatoes should be soy sauce colored.
I failed but it still tasted good.
Who doesn't love a savory dish of simmered meat and potatoes when the weather gets cold and blustery? (Aside for vegetarians, vegans and the anti-potato folk).  This is another family standard that makes everyone happy and reminds us of Japan. Folks that aren't familiar with Japanese home cooking may be surprised by this dish. Any "meat and potatoes" person can eat eat this meal without fear of funkiness you may think is typical of Japanese cooking. 

No raw fish. No seaweed. No squid guts. 

Just potatoes, meat, and onion in a savory broth served with rice. Carrots, green beans, peas or other vegetables can be added. I use carrots and green beans because that's what the Hoffman kids prefer.

If you want something a little funkier, you can add shirataki noodles (also called konnyaku, made from the devil's tongue plant) to this dish. has a great post on these "miracle" noodles that are zero-calorie and a filling additive to a lot of Japanese dishes. Shirataki may not appeal to less adventurous eaters because of their wobbly consistency and their strong smell before cooking (you have to parboil them before adding to a dish. Add at same time as the potatoes). My kids like them, but they like noodles in any form.

(Seriously, the smell out of the bag will put you off. Hold your breath and parboil those suckers! Yes they're a health nut's superfood, but incredibly stinky before boiling.)

This dish can be made from thinly sliced pork or beef. Pork is more popular in Eastern Japan and beef in the west. To make with beef: substitute beef for pork, chop carrots into .25" chunks, reduce sugar to 3 Tb, mirin to 1/3 c., and 1/3 c. light soy sauce instead of regular. I add the carrots at the same time as the onions.

Thin sliced beef
Potatoes in soy mixture
4 potatoes, quartered
1 onion, sliced
1 small carrot, julienned
1/2 lb. (8 oz.) thinly sliced pork (you can find this in Asian stores or ask a butcher to slice some loin 1/16")
3 c. water
5 Tb. sugar
1/2 c. mirin
1/2 c. soy sauce
handful of 1" cut green beans (you can also use peas or snow peas)

1. Soak the potatoes in cold water and chop the sliced pork into bite-sized pieces. 

2. Bring the potatoes, water, sugar, mirin and soy sauce to a boil. Blanche the green vegetable at the same time, then set aside.

Adding meat and onions.
3. When the potatoes boil, bring them to a simmer. Add the meat and onions and simmer for about 20 minutes until the potatoes are soft and soy-sauce colored.

4. Add the carrots. Cook 2-3 minutes longer if you like the carrots soft or take off the heat and sit in the liquid a few minutes if you like them al dente. 

5. There will be a lot of liquid. Serve the pork-potato mixture in the broth, but it's not soup, so use your own discretion on how much broth you want. Ladle into a bowl and scatter with the green beans.

Our family likes Nikujaga on top of rice (which is more like another meat dish), but that's not traditional. 

6. Rice on the side. But whatever. It's your house.