Narukami’s Lunchbox: 5/12 Nikujaga (Beef Stew)
> Make lunch for tomorrow?
Nikujaga, also known as the Japanese equivalent to beef stew, is a very popular Japanese comfort food. It is often eaten in winter months since it is best served piping hot, but it can be eaten all year round. It should be noted that Nikujaga is quite different than traditional western beef stew— the liquid that the food is stewed in has a much lighter consistency. Pork is used over beef as an alternative in Japan due to the accessibility of it. However, Inaba is known for its grilled steak, so it’s likely that there will be no shortage of beef anytime soon.
- 1/2 lb. Thinly Sliced Beef (or Pork)
- 2 Small Potatoes
- 1 Onion
- 1/2 of a Carrot
- 1 Green Onion
- 1/2 Cup of Dashi
- 2 tbsp. Sake or Mirin
- 2 tbsp. Brown Sugar
- 2 tbsp. Soy Sauce
These portions will give you an ample amount of the dish, enough for dinner and lunch in a bento the next day. Depending on how small your bento is, you may want to chop the ingredients smaller than this version of the dish.
> You have enough ingredients to make beef stew.
> You decided to make beef stew.
- Start by peeling the skin off of the potatoes and carrot with a peeler or knife. Make sure to wash all the vegetables, too.
- Cut each potato into eight even pieces and put them off to the side. Chop the carrot lengthwise down the middle and then chop each slice into rolling wedges.
- Cut the onion in half and pull the center out. Chop each half circle into four pieces. Chop and mince the green onion.
- Cut the thin beef strips into bite sized pieces.
- Take 1 cup of water and slowly mix in the dashi until it tastes strong enough to you. It should taste like a thin, lighter soy sauce.
Making sure that each ingredient is small and bite sized is the most important part of the dish. If the ingredients are too big, they’ll heat up at different rates and turn out either overcooked or undercooked. Dashi mixed with water serves as the initial broth, so don’t be afraid of making it a bit stronger if you want more flavor.
Cooking Part 1:
- Put the stove at about medium high. Put a medium-sized pan on the stove and line the bottom with vegetable oil. Once the pan is hot enough, add the meat. Let the meat cook until it is browned on both sides.
- Add the carrot wedges and let them sit for about a minute.
- Add the onion and potato and mix the ingredients together. Watch them as they cook and make sure nothing sticks to the pan. Let it sit and cook until the potatoes become a little less firm.
- Add the dashi mixed with water to the pan. While you’re at it, toss the sake and brown sugar into the mix. Stir the ingredients together. Let it sit for a few minutes.
***Narukami’s Protip*** Simmer with a drop lid.
Now, although many homes will likely have see-through glass or ceramic drop lids for their pans, the traditional Japanese otoshi buta (落とし蓋), is an excellent alternative if you feel like going out and buying one. What’s the difference? Well, the otoshi buta is made of a light wood and is designed to not cover a pan all the way around. This allows for the steam to escape and the food to ventilate more while still maintaining some of the stewing or steaming effect. I found one for 8 bucks at a local Mitsuwa Japanese market. Make sure you wash it well and dampen it before putting it on top of the cooking food.
Cooking Part 2:
- Cover the pan with a drop lid and let it simmer for another ten minutes. At this point the ingredients should be getting pretty soft.
- Take off the cover and check the surfaces of the ingredients. Add soy sauce and the minced green onion put the drop lid back on top, this time leaving some space for steam to escape. Wait until the liquid that the food is stewing in partially evaporates.
- Serve while still hot, or save it for lunch the next day! If you are making it into a lunch, don’t put any excess liquid in it.
There you have it! Nikujaga is incredibly easy to make and is very flavorful. As mentioned earlier, it is like a lighter beef stew— like a mix of western beef stew and Japanese hotpot. Try out different variations until you find one that your friends like best!
> Obtained Well-simmered Beef Stew.
For additional visual help on this dish, CookingwithDog has a nikujaga episode that I learned this dish from originally, so check it out.
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