With chunks of potatoes, onion, and thinly sliced beef simmered in savory and sweet dashi broth, Japanese Meat and Potato Stew (Nikujaga) is one of the most iconic home-cooked dishes in Japan.
Nikujaga (肉じゃが) or Japanese Meat and Potato Stew is synonymous with good old home cooking in Japan. It’s the dish that everyone frequently eats at home and remembers as mother’s taste おふくろの味. Let’s make a killer Nikujaga that steals your family’s heart!
What is Nikujaga
As two of the main ingredients are niku (meat) and jagaimo (potatoes), Nikujaga (肉じゃが) literally means “meat and potatoes”. It is an iconic Japanese home-cooked dish, known as “Ofukuro no Aji” – the taste of a mother’s cooking. For many, nikujaga is an honest-to-goodness comfort food.
Potatoes make up the majority of the dish, with some thinly sliced beef or pork, onion, shirataki noodles (ito konnyaku), and a colorful mix of vegetables. In western Japan, nikujaga typically features beef while pork is more commonly used in eastern Japan.
It is a classic Yoshoku, a western-influenced Japanese food, that appeared in the late 19th century. Here, the ingredients are stewed in soy sauce, sugar, sake, and mirin, along with dashi (or water) in a pot, rendering a familiar Japanese flavor.
History of Nikujaga
Nikujaga originated in the Imperial Japanese Navy. It was introduced to sailors as it was high in nutrition and the ingredients are easy to supply as they are similar to the ones for Navy Curry.
In the late 19th century, General Heihachiro Togo who studied in Portsmouth, England in the late 1800s, asked the naval cook to create a version of the beef stew, which was served in the British Royal Navy. As the chef never tried beef stew before and ingredients like wine and demi glace sauce were not available then, the chef invented his own version with soy sauce and sugar, similar to Sukiyaki. The dish, called Amani (甘煮) back then, became popular in the Navy, and you can find the recipe in the “Navy kitchen textbook.”
On the contrary, the general public didn’t show interest in the dish as it uses beef and potatoes that were foreign to the Japanese at the time. Nikujaga didn’t appear on the table at home until the 1970s. That’s when beef stew and curry rice started to become popular and home cooks started to use beef and potatoes in their cooking.
How to Make Nikujaga
Ingredients You’ll Need
- Thinly sliced beef or pork (thinly sliced meat cooks a lot faster!)
- Shirataki noodles (Ito Konnyaku)
- Green vegetables (Most commonly snow peas, green beans, or green peas)
- Seasonings – soy sauce, sugar, mirin, sake, optional dashi (Japanese soup stock)
Overview of Cooking Steps
- Blanch the green vegetable of your choice in a separate small pot. Set aside for the last step.
- Cook shirataki noodles according to package directions.
- In a large pot, cook the onion and then add meat.
- Add potatoes and coat them well with oil.
- Add the rest of the ingredients, including shirataki noodles.
- Add seasonings and simmer for 15 minutes.
- Let cool for 30-60 minutes.
- When ready to serve, add in blanched green vegetables and reheat to serve.
5 Most Important Tips to Make Best Nikujaga
- Cut the ingredients into roughly equal chunks and size – The ingredients should be all cooked in 15 minutes or less. If you cut them too small or too large, the texture will either be mushy or undercooked.
- Use a bigger pot/pan – To make sure the ingredients absorb all the great flavors, it’s best to use a wide, big pan or pot so the ingredients won’t be overlapping too much and there is no need to mix frequently.
- Use Otoshibuta (Drop Lid) – This Japanese must-have tool keeps the ingredients in place while simmering so they will not move and break down. It also helps to circulate the broth over the surface so you don’t need to mix while cooking. Don’t have one? Make one with aluminum foil or parchment paper!
- Let cool after simmering – During cool down, the ingredients will absorb all the flavors.
- Add green vegetables right before serving – I highly recommend blanching the green vegetables first, and reheating them right before serving. If you cook them with the other ingredients, the color will not stay bright green.
What to Serve with Nikujaga
- Rice: Steamed rice, Takikomi Gohan
- Soup: Miso Soup, Kakitama Jiru (Japanese Egg Drop Soup)
- Sides: Grilled Mackerel (if you want more protein), Spinach Ohitashi, Chilled Tofu, Green Bean Shiraae, Eggplant Agebitashi
Nikujaga (Japanese Meat and Potato Stew)
- 1 onion (8.8 oz, 250 g for 4 servings)
- 1 carrot (4.5 oz, 127 g for 4 servings)
- 3 Yukon gold potatoes (1.2 lb, 546 g for 4 servings; Yukon golds keep their shape better during simmering, but I sometimes use russet potatoes, which tend to break easily but absorb flavors nicely)
- 1 package shirataki noodles (7 oz, 200 g for 4 servings)
- ½ lb thinly sliced beef (chuck or rib eye) (you can also use thinly sliced pork; skip for vegan/vegetarian and use shiitake, king oyster, or portabello mushrooms as a substitute)
- 8 pieces snow peas (you can also use green beans or green peas)
- 1 Tbsp neutral-flavored oil (vegetable, rice bran, canola, etc.)
- Gather all the ingredients.
To Prepare the Ingredients
- Cut the onion in half, and cut each half into ½-inch (1.3 cm) wedges.
- Peel the carrot and cut it into 1-inch (2.5 cm) pieces. Here, I use a Japanese cutting technique called "rangiri," where we cut the carrot diagonally while rotating it a quarter turn between cuts. This helps to create more surface area so it will cook faster and absorb more flavor.
- Cut each potato into quarters.
- Remove the sharp edges of the potatoes with a knife to create smooth corners. Then, soak the potatoes in water to remove the starch. Tip: We call this Japanese cutting technique "mentori." This prevents the potatoes from breaking into pieces. If the potatoes have sharp edges, they are likely to bump into each other and break while simmering.
- Remove the strings from the snow peas.
- Bring a small pot of water to a boil and add a pinch of salt. Add the snow peas.
- Blanch them in the boiling water for 1 minute and take them out. Keep the water boiling.
- Drain the shirataki noodles from the package and cut them roughly in half. Blanch the noodles in the pot of boiling water for 1 minute to remove any odor.
- Drain well and set aside. Cut the thinly-sliced beef in half or thirds (depending on the size) so that the pieces are about 3 inches (7.6 cm) wide.
To Cook the Nikujaga
- Preheat a large pot or Dutch oven (I used a 4-QT Staub cocotte) on medium heat. Then, add the oil and sauté the onion wedges.
- When the onion wedges are coated with oil, add the meat and cook until no longer pink.
- Add the potatoes and coat them well with the cooking liquid. Tip: This coating will help keep the potatoes from breaking.
- Add the carrot pieces and shirataki noodles and mix everything together.
- Add the dashi, making sure there's enough liquid to almost cover the ingredients (it doesn't have to fully cover the ingredients). If there's not enough liquid, add water.
- Cover with a lid and continue to cook. Once boiling, skim the scum and foam from the surface with a fine-mesh skimmer.
- Add the sugar, sake, soy sauce, and mirin.
- Mix it all together and place an otoshibuta (drop lid) on top of the ingredients.
- Simmer on low heat for 12-14 minutes, or until a skewer pierces a potato easily. Tip: The otoshibuta holds the ingredients in place and is necessary to maintain the shape of the vegetables. They bump into each other and break easily when they are loose. Do not mix the ingredients while cooking; the otoshibuta will help distribute the cooking liquid and its flavors.
- Turn off the heat and remove the otoshibuta. Ideally, let it stand (uncovered) for 30-60 minutes before serving. The flavors will soak into the ingredients while cooling down.
- When you are ready to serve the Nikujaga, add the blanched snow peas to the pot and cover to reheat on medium heat. When simmering, reduce the heat and let it simmer for a few minutes. Tip: Add the snow peas right before serving to keep their bright color.
- Turn off the heat and serve the Nikujaga with some cooking liquid in a large serving bowl or individual bowls.
- You can keep the leftovers in an airtight container or in the pot and store in the refrigerator for up to 3-4 days. Nikujaga tastes even better on the second day! To freeze, remove the potatoes as their texture changes when frozen. You can keep it in the freezer for up to a month.
Editor’s Note: The post was originally published on April 19, 2012. New images and video have been added to the post and the content has been updated.