Nikujaga: Japanese stewed meat and potatoes

nikujaga.jpg

[Update:] Try this simplified version if you are in a hurry.

There is a category of cooking in almost every cuisine, "mother's cooking". It means something that's simple, homely, filling, and invokes strong feelings of nostaliga. In Japanese this is called ofukuro no aji (mother's flavor). Nikujaga, or stewed potatoes with meat, is one of the mainstays of Japanese-style mother's cooking.

Japanese stewed dishes are called nimono. Usually the liquid part is reduced slowly to almost nothing, contrary to western style stews where the liquid or soupy part is abundant. In order to maintain the shape of the vegetables being stewed, a pan lid that is smaller than the diameter of the pan is placed directly on top of the stew. Some Japanese pans actually come with a second lid for this purpose. Usually this is made of wood, but you can use a regular metal pot lid just as well.

This meat and potato dish only contains a small amount of meat, which is basically there for flavor rather than substance. This is quite typical of Japanese cooking. Traditionally, this is eaten with plain rice, but if the idea of potatoes and rice is sort of overwhelming to you, reduce the amount of soy sauce in the stewing liquid to make it less salty.

Nikujaga, Japanese stewed meat and potatoes

  • 900 g / 2 lbs of potatoes. Use boiling potatoes for a firmer texture, and baking potatoes if you want it rather crumbly and mushy. (Either way it's good, though the former makes for a prettier dish.)
  • 200g / 6 oz thinly sliced beef or pork. "Minute steak" is fine, or just cut up a thin cutlet.
  • 1 medium onion
  • A small piece of fresh ginger
  • about 4-5 cups of dashi soup stock (You can use the granulated instant dashi, but be careful not to add too much or it will be salty)
  • 6 Tbs sugar
  • 3 Tbs sake, or sweet sherry
  • 3 Tbs soy sauce
  • 1 Tbs mirin (or just add another Tbs. of sake and a bit more sugar)
  • vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp dark sesame oil
  • Some chopped green onions for garnish

Peel and cut up the potatoes. Roughly chop up the meat. Slice the onion. Chop the ginger finely.

Sauté the onion and ginger in some oil. Add the meat and sauté till browned.

Add the potatoes and sauté briefly. Add enough dashi stock to cover. Add the sugar, sake, mirin and soy sauce. Add the sesame oil. Bring to a boil, then put a pot lid that's smaller than the pot you're using directly on top of the potatoes, Simmer over medium-low heat, until the liquid is much reduced and the potatoes are tender, and infused with a sort of golden color.

Sprinkle with the green onions and toss around in the pan. Serve immedately.

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Nikujaga: Japanese stewed meat and potatoes

That looks great.

The concept you call "ofukuro no aji" I think is what I would call "comfort food." Gretchen and I were just talking about that the other day. It is hard to know what people will call comfort food, but like art, you know it when you see it.

Stews would definitely fall into the comfort food categories. As you mentioned, western -- or at least American -- stews have a lot of liquid. They are essentially thickened soups. There is another class called "pot pies" that are extremely thick, but still strongly feature the thickened liquid. What constitutes a pot pie is a religious topic.

What you have made here looks barely damp, but very tasty. Definitely different. Thanks for the recipe.

Mark | 19 February, 2004 - 04:28

Nikujaga: Japanese stewed meat and potatoes

the potatoes look gorgeous... almost like sweet potatoes.
hmmm... maybe sweet potatoes will make an interesting option? would that work if we wanted to still keep the dish Japanese?

I can just imagine the potatoes being soft, sweet yet not mushy. delicious!
thanks for the recipe : )

Renee | 19 February, 2004 - 05:44

Nikujaga: Japanese stewed meat and potatoes

Mark, this is definitely comfort food as you say. I think anything with potatoes is sort of comforting :) The analogy to pot pies is interesting. Like with pot pies, everyone has their own way of doing nikujaga..in our house it was done this way, but some people may consider the addition of the sesame oil to be a travesty. Some people briefly deep-fry the potatoes before stewing them. Some people make it much lighter-flavored, with more liquid/soup, and so on.

Renee, you can definitely make it with sweet potatoes, though I'd use the white-fleshed kind rather than the orange fleshed ones.(I guess you can get that in Singapore...here in Switzerland we can only get the orange-fleshed kind :( ) I think I would add a bit more soy sauce in that case to counteract the sweetness.

maki | 19 February, 2004 - 07:49

Nikujaga: Japanese stewed meat and potatoes

Maki, thank you for mentioning ofukuro no aji-- I've been trying to come up with that term for weeks now, and I couldn't think of it. I kept thinking tezukuri, which doesn't quite have the same connotations.

My mom makes nikujaga with ground beef, and no sesame oil. I think it's one of my dad's favorite dishes, too, because of the nostalgic overtones it has for him.

yoko | 19 February, 2004 - 17:51

Nikujaga: Japanese stewed meat and potatoes

Maki,

Fan of niku jaga should thanks its "inventor", Admiral Heihachiro Togo, of the Japanese Imperial Navy who ordered his cook to re-create the beef stew he enjoyed while he was stationed in the UK on a study tour.

I also heard the original version employed pork and was distributed to Japanese Naval sailors to prevent vitamin B deficiency.

It sure the Hell beats MREs.

-M

M.M. | 22 February, 2004 - 23:07

Nikujaga: Japanese stewed meat and potatoes

You forgot the green peas. Three green peas per serving, or it isn't real nikujaga.

Cheeto | 1 March, 2004 - 02:10

Nikujaga: Japanese stewed meat and potatoes

i belive comfort food to be anything that comforts you, and this mostly comes from what you ate as a child, that is why ice cream and chocolate are often thought of as comfort food, along with many other junk food.

anything your mum cooks is probally comfort food ^^

Jimmy | 3 December, 2004 - 15:41

Substitute for sake?

Since I’m still underage by about a year is there anything that I can substitute for sake in this dish, or is it absolutely necessary? Thanks.. :)

Eve | 14 January, 2008 - 04:31

substitutes for sake

would be…

  • mirin
  • sherry

yes they are both alcoholic too. You can leave it out - the flavor will be a bit different but it will still be good.

maki | 14 January, 2008 - 06:32

can you microwave this to have later?

hola!
I’m just wondering if you can microwave this dish later (like the following day). Is that possible?

ahiru | 24 February, 2008 - 21:56

Sure! Actually it tastes

Sure! Actually it tastes even better the next day, when all the flavors have blended and mellowed.

maki | 25 February, 2008 - 13:38

How long does this normally

How long does this normally take to make? o.O It doesn’t look like it would take very long….but looks can be deceving!

creampuff | 2 March, 2008 - 03:43

it depends on how big the

it depends on how big the potato chunks are, but usually about 30 minutes for the flavors to penetrate. It can be cooked longer, provided the potatoes don’t fall apart (though even if they do fall apart they are good!)

maki | 2 March, 2008 - 22:14

This was wonderful!

Oishii! Arigatou gozaimasu!!! I’ve been trying to make something like this for a long time but the exact condiments always escaped me. I cheated and used the dashi granules, plus regular Chinese cooking wine, but it turned out oh so wonderful. Once I finish that I will be getting some sake. The aroma of the wine simmering away was just heavenly. I used skirt steak and will be making a big batch next time … ofukuro no aji indeed!

anon. | 2 September, 2008 - 07:19

Re: Nikujaga: Japanese stewed meat and potatoes

Great Recipe, make a batch last night based on your recipe, thanks for it =)

Sputnik | 15 January, 2009 - 04:03

Re: Nikujaga: Japanese stewed meat and potatoes

Wonderful recipe! I just finished making it for the first time and it was fabulous! I added green beans, which added a nice flavor. Thank you for such a great dish!

Annie | 20 April, 2009 - 04:02

Re: Nikujaga: Japanese stewed meat and potatoes

The only "Japanese" food I can my father to eat. I don't eat red meat though, so I cut chicken breasts into thin strips. I also used red potatoes cut into small cubes.

Fuu-chan | 23 April, 2009 - 06:35

Re: Nikujaga: Japanese stewed meat and potatoes

I got all these ingredients together and sort of... dumped it all into my crock pot for the day. By the Gods', it was the best stew I have ever had. Even the plainest roast, sliced and cooked in this way was so tender, it was like butter. So very yummy! I am so impressed with how well this 'mother's' taste recipe took to long, low cooking. Give it a shot!

anon. | 24 August, 2009 - 23:07

Re: Nikujaga: Japanese stewed meat and potatoes

I just made this dish for the first time, after long admiring the delicious picture, and I have to stay it's one of my favorites! Even my mother and grandmother were both in love with it, and both are decidedly plain, down-home american cooks. My grandmother in particular is always wary of any foreign food, and she absolutely loved it! She even asked for the recipe! I didn't have any sesame oil on hand, so I didn't get to try it with that, but I'm positive I'll be making it again either way!

Thanks for the great recipe, and for helping me show my Irish-American grandmother how delicious good Japanese cooking can be!!

Samantha | 3 September, 2009 - 05:54

Re: Nikujaga: Japanese stewed meat and potatoes

This seems very close to scouse, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scouse_(food)
It's a traditional lamb or beef stew cooked in Liverpool, my family always used beef.
This is the closest recipe i can find to the way my family cooks it http://www.mydish.co.uk/recipe/5204/Grandma%20and%20Grandad%27s%20Scouse
I can't wait to try Nikujaga.

anon. | 30 September, 2009 - 16:13

Re: Nikujaga: Japanese stewed meat and potatoes

The recipe is great. I just tried it and really like it.

I'm just curious about the amount of liquid which is left over after cooking. do you simmer it until all liquid vanished, or would you keep some liquid?
Because I found when the potatos were already tender, there was still a lot of liquid.
I solved the problem by mashing the potatos a little bit and just adding some of the sauce to the mashed potatos. It's probably not original Nikujaga any more, but this way was for me a very nice way to eat

Charlotte | 26 March, 2010 - 22:27

Re: Nikujaga: Japanese stewed meat and potatoes

Hi Charlotte, if there is liquid left over, I just strain it off (I use chopsticks or a slotted spoon to scoop out the potatoes and meat). Then I might pour a little of the sauce over the potatoes and meat once it's in the serving dish.

maki | 27 March, 2010 - 02:14

Re: Nikujaga: Japanese stewed meat and potatoes

I never used onions in mine...or vegetable oil. Just cooked the potatoes in shimazake or any plain Japanese Sake ( i just prefered shimazake) add sugar , cook for another 5 mins, then added the pork slices, dashi no moto ( little packs of powder or liquid) mirin and shouyu. Shirataki is the best but konyaku cut and twisted is different and nice to.
I know it sounds insane , cooking potatoes in all that booze but after it's done can't really taste the sake. I think this was just some crazy Okinawans way of making it.
The one thing I do like about this recipe is the ginger. May help when one has a cold.

anon. | 23 October, 2010 - 01:26

Re: Nikujaga: Japanese stewed meat and potatoes

Hi! I cooked this a little while ago although I used chicken, and still it turned out okay. :)
I also ended up with a lot of sauce. What I did was to let it simmer, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has reduced into almost gravy-like consistency (not as thick as what gravy really is, btw). The starch in the potatoes will help thicken the sauce.

regina | 23 February, 2011 - 08:31

Re: Nikujaga: Japanese stewed meat and potatoes

Hi Maki,

I would like to quote the recipe portion for a new post in my food blog. May I please have the permission to do so?

Warmest regards, (It hardly gets cold where I hail from ^^)
Cheng Hui

maki wrote:

nikujaga.jpg

There is a category of cooking in almost every cuisine, "mother's cooking". It means something that's simple, homely, filling, and invokes strong feelings of nostaliga. In Japanese this is called ofukuro no aji (mother's flavor). Nikujaga, or stewed potatoes with meat, is one of the mainstays of Japanese-style mother's cooking.

Japanese stewed dishes are called nimono. Usually the liquid part is reduced slowly to almost nothing, contrary to western style stews where the liquid or soupy part is abundant. In order to maintain the shape of the vegetables being stewed, a pan lid that is smaller than the diameter of the pan is placed directly on top of the stew. Some Japanese pans actually come with a second lid for this purpose. Usually this is made of wood, but you can use a regular metal pot lid just as well.

This meat and potato dish only contains a small amount of meat, which is basically there for flavor rather than substance. This is quite typical of Japanese cooking. Traditionally, this is eaten with plain rice, but if the idea of potatoes and rice is sort of overwhelming to you, reduce the amount of soy sauce in the stewing liquid to make it less salty.Nikujaga, Japanese stewed meat and potatoes

  • 900 g / 2 lbs of potatoes. Use boiling potatoes for a firmer texture, and baking potatoes if you want it rather crumbly and mushy. (Either way it's good, though the former makes for a prettier dish.)
  • 200g / 6 oz thinly slice beef or pork. "Minute steak" is fine, or just cut up a thin cutlet.
  • 1 medium onion
  • A small piece of fresh ginger
  • about 4-5 cups of dashi soup stock (You can use the granulated instant dashi, but be careful not to add too much or it will be salty)
  • 6 Tbs sugar
  • 3 Tbs sake, or sweet sherry
  • 3 Tbs soy sauce
  • 1 Tbs mirin (or just add another Tbs. of sake and a bit more sugar)
  • vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp dark sesame oil
  • Some chopped green onions for garnish

Peel and cut up the potatoes. Roughly chop up the meat. Slice the onion. Chop the ginger finely.
Sauté the onion and ginger in some oil. Add the meat and sauté till browned.
Add the potatoes and sauté briefly. Add enough dashi stock to cover. Add the sugar, sake, mirin and soy sauce. Add the sesame oil. Bring to a boil, then put a pot lid that's smaller than the pot you're using directly on top of the potatoes, Simmer over medium-low heat, until the liquid is much reduced and the potatoes are tender, and infused with a sort of golden color.
Sprinkle with the green onions and toss around in the pan. Serve immedately.

Cheng Hui | 24 February, 2011 - 18:52

Re: Nikujaga: Japanese stewed meat and potatoes

Hello Cheng, please check out my copyright and usage terms here.

Good luck with your new blog!

maki | 24 February, 2011 - 20:56

Re: Nikujaga: Japanese stewed meat and potatoes

Thanks for this recipe! My mom liked it and said it'd be a hit with children. :)

lydia | 1 March, 2011 - 08:23

Re: Nikujaga: Japanese stewed meat and potatoes

Hi Maki! I'm new here reading your blog, but I love it! I've made some recipes and my husband (who's Japanese) says they're really good. Thanks for that! I don't know how to cook much Japanese food, and as he's Japanese he sure likes his country's food.

For this recipe, if I were to use the powdered instant dashi, about how much should i put in? Would it still be about 4 cups?

Thanks so much!

Janelle | 16 September, 2011 - 01:10

Re: Nikujaga: Japanese stewed meat and potatoes

I've made a tweek on this that has worked really well. Instead of using meat, make the recipe the same but when it comes to adding the meat, don't. Just cook the potatoes etc until it the sauce gets syrupy and then add king prawns (the ones I used were pre-cooked) so only cooked for a few minutes just to warm them through and had it with rice. Soo, tasty.

KatyG | 18 November, 2011 - 17:53

Re: Nikujaga: Japanese stewed meat and potatoes

It's my first time making this. The taste was amazing. Thank you very much, for a long time I wanted to try this

Deck | 11 March, 2012 - 10:03

Re: Nikujaga: Japanese stewed meat and potatoes

I have been looking for this recipe, I tried it for the first time today and I was really nervous about it - but it turned out wonderful! Thank you so much for this!!

Juri | 17 March, 2013 - 11:04

Re: Nikujaga: Japanese stewed meat and potatoes

Hi, I just made this and all was good except the amount of sugar... Next time I'd use just 2 tbs. of sugar and maybe add some carrots.

Mimi | 7 April, 2013 - 03:30

Re: Nikujaga: Japanese stewed meat and potatoes

I just made this... after a fashion, because I had followed your suggestion of bagging used bonito flakes and kinbu, and wanted to use some. I say "after a fashion" because I was only cooking for one and had to play with proportions because I had stuff to "eat up". In the end I had a little more pork than I probably needed and a mix of carrot and potato.

But... it was still lovely - and the remaining broth was so nice that I confess I took my spoon and ate it like soup with the last of my rice :)

Thank you for all these wonderful recipes, I'm having a great time trying out new techniques and flavours.

Mawb | 5 June, 2013 - 21:20

Re: Nikujaga: Japanese stewed meat and potatoes

I cooked the Japanese stewed meat and potatoes and was very pleased with the result. I used whole small potatoes and beef and the sauce cooked down to a nice glace on the potatoes and the meat, although I reduced the sugar to half. Along side I served a cucumber salad with wakame and sesame seeds and rice.
I discovered Just Hungry and Just Hungry only last Christmas and am already a big fan :) having tried the japanese cooking 101 and a few bento ideas from your book.

michi | 10 January, 2014 - 01:12

Re: Nikujaga: Japanese stewed meat and potatoes

I love your recipes and have followed them precisely. However, I was wondering if the dishes I've tried can still be flavorful if I omit half of the sugar. Do most Japanese dishes contain a significant amount of sugar? Are there any natural substitutions I can use?

Vivien | 16 April, 2014 - 00:07

Re: Nikujaga: Japanese stewed meat and potatoes

Hi Vivien. A lot of Japanese dishes do include sugar, but you can adjust it to taste of course. Using any zero-calorie sugar substitute that withstands heat should work too.

maki | 16 April, 2014 - 22:17

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