This dish is awesome as it’s oh-so simple but full of flavour and wonderfully filling. Regarded more as comfort food than haute cuisine, it’s probably the first nimono (simmered dish) a Japanese girl (and hopefully the modern boy) learns to make. Served in the colder months as an okazu (side dish) with steamed rice, Nikujaga is a firm family favourite in Japan (although I hazard to guess that some husbands wish it wasn’t that easy to make!).
Nikujaga is the conjugation of meat (niku) and jyagaimo (potato) so it’ll come as no surprise to you that beef and potato are the key ingredients in this recipe. I recommend using thinly sliced beef such as what is already prepared for other Asian dishes such as steamboats and shabu shabu. A lot of Asian grocers keep such meet in their freezer section and good mainstream butchers will often have it in stock also. If you’re out of luck you’ll have to get a sharp knife and do your level best with a chunk of rump. Try partially freezing your meat and see if you can shave off slices.
The recipe does call for quite a few Japanese pantry items (such as mirin, cooking sake and konbu) so unless you cook Japanese often, I suggest you’ll be visiting your local Asian grocer before embarking on your Nikujaga bliss journey. It’s well worth stocking up though as once you see how foolproof it is and taste it, you’ll be making this dish again for solo meals or dinner with friends. As for the potato, choose a variety that enjoys long hot baths.
200g thinly sliced beef
Beef Seasoning: 1 tablespoon cooking sake, 1 tablespoon soy sauce and 1 tablespoon sugar
one large onion (400g)
3 medium sized potatoes (450g)
50g snow peas (I used sugar snap peas – also good)
Stock: 2 cups of water, 5cm piece of konbu (dried seaweed), 1 tablespoon cooking sake, 1.5 tablespoon mirin, 2 tablespoons soy sauce
Oil to cook beef
In a good sized stock pot or large saucepan with lid, add water, konbu, potatoes and onion. Bring to boil on medium heat then remove konbu and add remaining ingredients for the stock. Put lid on and simmer for 10 minutes or until the liquid has been reduced to a third of original amount. The potato should be easy to skewer through. In the meantime, heat oil in a frypan on low/medium heat. The thin slices of beef won’t need much time on the pan and as it will cook further in the pot, don’t worry if the beef is still a bit pink. The idea is to get the slices onto the pan and cook 30 seconds on each side before coating it with the Beef Seasoning mixture. Once coated well, transfer the beef and juices to the pot. Stir through gently and allow to simmer with lid again for another 10 minutes. During this time, prepare your snow peas or sugar snap peas by removing the stringy bits along both edges. If you haven’t done this before, it’s like peeling a banana: snap the pointy ends and drag downwards to remove as much of the hard, stringy edge as comes away. Place snow peas into the pot and allow to simmer for a further 2 minutes. Serve with rice and miso soup.
The basic recipe is easy to expand on so you can tweak your Nikujaga with different flavours and texture to your liking. Having said that, you don’t want to overload the dish with too many ingredients either so I recommend adding just one extra item on top of the base ingredients. For example, diced firm tofu, carrots, shiitake mushrooms, konnyaku or quail eggs. Enjoy!