What Is Nikujaga?
Nikujaga is a dish from Japan that mainly consists of meat and potatoes. The term actually means “meat-potato” in Japanese. The potatoes serve as the main ingredient of the dish, while the meat functions as the flavoring component.
To make nikujaga, the meat is first added to a pan of boiling oil and browned. Then the chopped potatoes and other ingredients such as vegetables, bell peppers, soy sauce, onions, sugar and some rice-based alcoholic beverage called sake are added to the pan. The mixture is left to simmer for 15 to 20 minutes.
Nikujaga is usually eaten with steamed white rice and miso soup. The latter is mainly made from a seasoning of fermented rice and barley or soybeans called miso; and dashi stock, the most common form of which consists of seaweed and skipjack tuna. Nikujaga can be considered a seasonal dish, as it is most commonly prepared during the winter time. It is also a popular dish at izakayas, which are establishments in Japan that serve as casual spots for unwinding after a hard day’s work and serve food and drink.
The type of meat most often used to make nikujaga is thinly sliced beef. Minced or ground beef are also commonly used. In parts of eastern Japan, pork is used instead of beef. Carrots and snow peas are the most popular vegetable choices.
The chefs of the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN), which was the navy of Japan during its status as an empire from 1868 to 1947, is credited with creating nikujaga. According to legend, Togo Heihachiro, recognized as one of Japan’s greatest naval figures and referred to as “the Nelson of the East” by Western writers, wished to emulate the beef stew he saw the British Royal Navy prepare during his stay in Britain during the 1870s. The Japanese version of this European dish was born shortly thereafter.
In the 1990s, Maizuru, a small city located in Kyoto prefecture, was reputed to be nikujaga’s birthplace due to its position as a base for the IJN. Another story is that the dish originated in the city of Kure, which is in Hiroshima prefecture. The government claims that Togo ordered the IJN chefs to make the dish during his stint as the city naval base’s chief of staff.
I had nikujaga at an Asian restaurant and I must say that I was surprised with it. I didn't really know what to expect when I ordered it. It even seemed awkward to order something like meat and potatoes at an Asian restaurant but I was curious.
Nikujaga has a pretty sweet taste. The article mentions that the recipe has sugar in it, so that's probably why. I don't know what else they put in it in addition to the ingredients listed here, but despite being sweet, the taste of it was not contrary to the meat and potatoes. In fact, it suit all of the ingredients really well.
I think I might try making my version of American stew with a few ingredients from nikujaga. I like it!
When I stayed in Japan, I stayed with a Japanese family and my Japanese mom often made this dish for us in the winter time. I have the best memories with them at the dinner table, eating this dish.
In Japanese, nikujaga is often called "the flavor of mom" because it's something that moms always make- it's a warm, comforting meal that we all look forward to, especially during cold winters. I think this dish has a special place in Japanese homes, it's one of those basic but completely filling and satisfying foods that only moms can make.
I read that before the 1800s, the Japanese were not allowed to eat beef. I think nikujaga was one of the first Western style foods that were introduced to the Japanese people. But this is not the beef and potato stew we have here in the U.S., or that the Europeans have. It still has a lot of flavors from Japanese cooking, it was made to suit their palate.
I know that some Japanese add shirataki noodles (yam starch noodles) to their nikujaga, which is definitely a Japanese touch.
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