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 the 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” – taste of 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 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, 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 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, which 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
Overview of Cooking Steps
- Blanch 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 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 vegetable 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 vegetable right before serving – I highly recommend blanching the green vegetables first, and reheat it 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)
- 1 carrot (4.5 oz, 127 g)
- 3 Yukon gold potatoes (1.2 lb, 546 g; Yukon keeps its shape better during simmering, but I also make Nikujaga with Russet, which tends to break easily but absorb flavors nicely)
- 1 package shirataki noodles (7 oz, 200 g)
- ½ lb thinly sliced beef (chuck or rib eye) (it can be thinly sliced pork; skip for vegan/vegetarian and use shiitake, king oyster, or portobello mushrooms as a substitute)
- 8 pieces snow peas (1 oz, 28 g; you can also use green beans or green peas)
- 1 Tbsp neutral-flavored oil (vegetable, rice bran, canola, etc)
- Gather all the ingredients. Cut the sliced meat in half about 3 inch (7.6 cm) wide..
- Cut the onion in half and 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 between cuts. This helps to create more surface spaces so it will cook faster and absorb more flavors.
- Cut each potato into quarters
- Remove the sharp edges of the potatoes with a knife to create smooth corners. Soak the potatoes in water to remove starch. Tip: We call this Japanese cutting technique "mentori". This prevents the potatoes from breaking into pieces. If the potato has sharp edges, they are likely to bump into each other and break easily while simmering.
- Remove strings from snow peas.
- Bring a small pot of water to a boil and add a pinch of salt. Add the snow peas.
- Cook them in boiling water for 1 minute and take them out.
- Drain shirataki noodles from the package and roughly cut them in half. Cook the noodles in boiling water for 1 minute to remove the unwanted smell.
- Drain well and set aside. Cut the thinly-sliced beef into 3 pieces (depending on the size).
- In a large pot (I used a Staub), heat oil on medium heat and sauté the onion.
- When the onion is coated with oil, add the meat and cook until no longer pink.
- Add the potatoes and coat them well with cooking liquid. Tip: This coating will prevent the potatoes from breaking.
- Add the carrot and shirataki noodles and mix them all together.
- Add dashi and make sure it's just enough to cover the ingredients (it doesn't have to fully cover the ingredients).
- Cover to cook. Once boiling, with a fine-mesh skimmer, skim the scum and foam.
- Add the seasonings (sugar, sake, soy sauce, and mirin).
- Mix 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 through a potato easily. Tip: The otoshibuta 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 the flavor circulate automatically.
- 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 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 the bright color.
- Turn off the heat and serve Nikujaga with some cooking liquid.
- 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 they change the texture 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.