With the weather in the freezing zone this week, making a cozy comforting stew seems fitting. My favorite option is typically Nikujaga, a homey Japanese potato and meat stew with an equal emphasis on the potatoes. The word nikujaga is a combination of the words “meat” and “potato”. Asian home cooking is not part of my background, so I am pretty sure my recipe is not exactly traditional. It doesn’t really matter because my family craves my version of ground beef swimming around chunks of potatoes and carrots in a sweet, salty and every so slightly spicy broth.
I first made nikujaga a couple years ago from a treasure of a cookbook called Keepers by Kathy Brennan and Caroline Campion. I have since tried many other recipes and added my own spin with each effort to create a recipe to please my family. Making your own version seems to fit the essence of this simple Japanese home-style dish which is as individualized as the person making it. This a recipe with many ingredients, but a super simple and forgiving process.
Korean Gochujang is never listed in recipes for Japanese nikujaga. Yet gochuang adds a sweet heat that is hard to describe yet difficult to replicate with other Asian chile pastes. Gochujang makes a great addition to more traditional nikujaga ingredients like soy sauce, sake, and mirin. If you can’t find gochujang in the Asian section of your supermarket or specialty market, there is enough sweetness in the recipe to use sriracha or another chile paste to give a bit of heat to the dish without the sweetness.
I found a quirky recipe for nikujaga on the Coca-Cola website with Coke replacing mirin as an ingredient. Mirin is a syrupy sweet rice wine – so syrupy sweet Coke actually makes sense. Since I live in Atlanta where Coke is king I have included the suggestion in my recipe.
Thinly sliced beef is often used in nikujaga, but ground beef seems true to the dish’s homey appeal and keeps the focus away from the meat. Ground lean beef is also a perfect fit since I tend to use meat as just one of many flavors in my dishes. My nikujaga is more brothy than I have seen suggested because I can never get enough of the nummy broth. Like all stewed dishes, nikujaga tastes as good if not better a day or two after it is made. Today my sweet college girl and I shared the leftover nikujaga from last night and I had to control the urge to drink my remaining broth straight out of the bowl!
Nikujaga – Japanese Meat and Potatoes
2 Tbs peanut oil (canola or grapeseed oil can also be used)
1 lb ground beef, 90% or higher is preferable
2 medium yellow onions, cut in quarters then ¼” slices
2 peeled carrots, cut into 1” diagonal slices
2 lbs peeled Yukon gold potatoes, cut into 1” pieces
2 Tbs minced ginger
¼ cup sake (dry white wine or sherry can be substituted)
¼ cup soy sauce, dark if possible
2 ½ cups chicken stock, homemade is preferable
2 Tbs dark brown sugar
2 Tbs mirin (substitute Coke in a pinch)
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp gochujang (other chili pastes such as sriracha can be substituted, although the taste will be different)
¼ cup diced scallions, including green part
- In medium saucepan heat oil. Add beef and cook until browned. Drain fat if needed before continuing.
- Add onions, carrots, potatoes, and ginger and sauté until vegetables are softened, about 5 minutes.
- Add sake and cook until sake is reduced by half.
- Add soy sauce, chicken stock, brown sugar, mirin, sesame oil, and gochujang. Bring to boil then reduce to a simmer. Cook until potatoes are tender; about 35-45 minutes.
- Scatter scallions over nikujaga before serving.