Celebrating Food! Celebrating Life!

Itadakimasu! – 肉じゃが Nikujaga

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肉じゃが Nikujaga is a Japanese dish which I got to know only around 2 years back, during our trip to Kansai. Compared to many other popular dishes like agedashi tofu, ebi tempura and tori karaage, nikujaga came really late. I remembered that it was part of the 鰻丼定食 “unadon teishoku” which I’d ordered in a small family restaurant in downtown Kyoto. The original intentions then was to visit an old unadon restaurant which was reputably very good. We had some trouble locating the unadon speciality shop actually and when we finally gotten round to it, the prices for a decent meal there was prohibitive to say the least. Luckily, there was another family restaurant located just diagonally on the other side of the street which also served unadon. Prices for a set meal was only a fraction of what we would have paid at the other shop but we were famished, tired and in dire need to be fueled and watered. The Japanese restaurants we’d had so far have yet to disappoint us. Even the least motivating place we’d dined in was at least decent. So it was a family operated restaurant and that alone told us that it would be disappointing.

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My unadon teishoku came with several side dishes and Nikujaga was one of them. We knew most of the other dishes, tori karaage, dashiyaki tamago etc. then but just not nikujaga. It was rather puzzling as the dish tasted so “normal”. Don’t get me wrong. It is a very homely dish, something which my mother would have whipped up for us, so simple, down-to-earth yet so flavourful. Nothing fanciful and resounding but no less gratifying to enjoy. A peek at the menu again and it was basically “肉じゃが”, which literally meant “meat and potatoes”. Can’t be more literal than that, can we?
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The ingredients are so simple for this dish. The main ingredients are carrots, potatoes, onions and thinly sliced beef or pork. Basically a very homely meat stew of some sort
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One of the interesting ingredients used is 白滝 shirataki which literally means “white waterfall”. Made essentially our of konnyaku, it is not difficult to figure out the reasons behind the name. I love shirataki for its resilient crunch and did I tell you that it is practically calorie-free?
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The cooking process is also fairly straight forward and despite being a stew, the cooking time is not terribly long as the meat slices used should be really thin and thus do not require much over-the-stove time. Having said that, the flavours develop upon prolonged stewing or leaving it overnight to make it taste better on the next day!

But if prolonged stewing is desired, choose a variety of potato that is suited for that. Soft varieties like Russet would probably disintegrate too much.
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Nikujaga 肉じゃが Recipe (serves 4-6), adapted from Keiko Ishida’s “Step By Step Cooking Japanese”

Ingredients

500g thinly sliced pork (can be replaced with beef)
1 large carrot, peeled and cut into large chunks
2-4 potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks
1 large onion, peeled and cut into thin wedges along the grain
1 packet of shirataki, rinsed
100g sugar snaps, deveined (can be replaced with french beans or snow peas)
1-2 tbsp of cooking oil

Seasoning (combined in a bowl and set aside)
1 tbsp sugar
1 1/2 tbsp mirin
1 1/2 tbsp cooking sake
1 tbsp light soya sauce (Usukuchi shoyu)
1 tbsp dark soya sauce (Koikuchi shoyu)

500 ml hot water or dashi stock (or as needed)

Method
In a wok or deep cooking pot, add oil over high heat and add wedged onions and sliced pork and stir-fry for 1 min or so until pork turns pale.
Pour seasoning mixture over pork and onions, mix thoroughly until all the ingredients are uniformly coated.
Add potatoes, carrot, shirataki and hot water/dashi stock until the ingredients are barely submerged. Mix around a little.
Cover with lid and simmer for 10-15 min.
Remove lid and allow mixture to simmer for another 5 min to evaporate away excess moisture.
Taste test the gravy and adjust flavours with more seasoning according to personal preference.
Add sugar snaps and cook for another min or so
Remove from heat, transfer to serving bowl and serve hot with rice.

NOTE: Traditionally, the potatoes are soaked in water after cutting to prevent discolouration as well as to rinse off any excess starch. I’d omitted this as I’d like the gravy to have a slightly thickened consistency from the starch from the potatoes.

I’d used 1 tbsp of light and dark soya sauce respectively for the flavour without darkening the ingredients too much. The colouration is similar to what I had in the small family restaurant in Kyoto. If a darker hue is preferred, simply use all dark soya sauce instead.

The sugar snaps or other peas are added only at the last instance, i.e. a min before serving. Do not cook the peas for too long or they may lose their crunch and also being discoloured. Otherwise, the peas can also be blanchd in boiling water and added only during serving. But I cooked them together with the rest of the ingredients to save the hassle.

The concoction of seasoning is in essence the same as that for gyudon. However, the latter has a slightly sweet edge owning to more sugar added. Nikujaga should taste more savory than sweet in principle. So do not add too much sugar. That said, Nikujaga is a very “homely” dish which all Japanese folks whip up regularly at home with great ease. Hence, the proportion of ingredients as well as flavour combinations may change slightly according to personal preference.
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I am submitting this post to Asian Food Fest #1 Oct 2013 : Japan, hosted by Alan from travelling-foodies 

I am submitting this to the Little Thumbs Up “Soy Beans” event organized by Bake for Happy Kids, my little favourite DIY and hosted by Mich of Piece of Cake.

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11 responses

  1. There are times when I’m tired of complexity and this is exactly the type of food that I will crave for – taste just like home, warm and comforting.

    October 8, 2013 at 10:58 am

    • Alan (travellingfoodies)

      indeed… but japanese cooking are usually kept rather simple most of the time. so do try it when you have the time, Jasline 🙂

      October 8, 2013 at 11:22 am

  2. Sarah

    Yummy. I’d love that for lunch now 🙂

    October 8, 2013 at 11:53 am

  3. Rose

    Can I substitute the mirin and sake? And with what?

    October 8, 2013 at 7:51 pm

    • Alan (travellingfoodies)

      Hi Rose! Cooking sake can be replaced with chinese glutinous rice wine but proportions cut down slightly as the latter has a strong taste than sake. mirin is a bit difficult to replace as it is essentially sweet. Some websites I’d come across uses Japanese cooking sake or ryori-shu and a small amount of sugar but I haven’t tried it before.

      Do try to get mirin and sake for flavours closer to actual Japanese cooking. If you are living in Singapore or Malaysia, they should be available at any Japanese supermarkets or Daiso. Otherwise, do try the Asian grocers nearest to you. Chances are they will have it. Don’t worry that you can’t finish using a whole bottle of these condiments. Japanese cooking uses a lot of mirin and sake so if you like Japanese food, chances are you will need to stock up on your bottles pretty soon! 🙂

      October 9, 2013 at 11:33 am

  4. Hi Alan! do you make the shirataki yourself or is it easily available from jap supermarkets? I’ve never seen eaten/seen it before myself!

    October 8, 2013 at 8:58 pm

    • Alan (travellingfoodies)

      It is storebought of course! It cannot be made from konnyaku jelly powders. The texture is totally different. 🙂

      October 8, 2013 at 9:01 pm

  5. Pingback: Itadakimasu! – 大根のそぼろに Daikon no Soboroni | travellingfoodies

  6. Zoe

    Hi Alan,

    I have heard about shirataki being almost calories free. No wonder most Nikujaga-loving Japanese ladies are so slim 😀

    Zoe

    October 14, 2013 at 9:47 am

  7. Pingback: Itadakimasu! 鮎の塩焼き Ayu no Shioyaki | travellingfoodies

  8. Pingback: Asian Food Fest #10 Aug 2014 : Taiwan | travellingfoodies

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