Niku Jaga (肉じゃが) is a quintessential Japanese home dish. Food is very seasonal in Japan, and niku jaga typically appears on dining tables across the nation in wintertime.
Meat and potatoes are the main ingredients of niku jaga, but it is in no way an expensive dish since there is more potato than meat in a typical niku jaga.
If you have never tried niku jaga before, it may surprise you that you may need to hunt it down in restaurants that specialize in serving homecooked meals. I wager that if you have easy access to Japanese pantry ingredients, such as soy sauce, dashi, sake, and mirin, it will be much easier to learn how to cook this dish yourself than trying to find one in a restaurant unless you live in Japan.
The absolute minimum ingredients to prepare niku jaga are:
Thinly sliced beef or pork are the usual choices, with more households opting for pork since it is usually cheaper compared to beef.
For beef, you can choose from brisket, rib, or sirloin. For pork, choose between pork belly, pork shoulder, or pork loin.
If your supermarket sells thinly sliced meat packages for hot pot, you can grab one of those and save yourself from cutting meat into thin slices.
Always choose potatoes that are better suited for stewing and won’t easily turn to mush. I love using either Yukon gold or new potatoes.
If you are in a pinch and all you have are russet potatoes, you can use those too. Since russets have higher starch content, be careful not to cook them too long to prevent them from disintegrating.
Onion is a must for niku jaga. For me, niku jaga without onion is just weird. Anything else is not necessary.
Some of the more commonly used add-ons include carrots, snow peas, green beans, konnyaku, and shirataki. But really, just about any hardy vegetables that work in a stew can be used and added to a niku jaga.
To make niku jaga sauce, we will need:
Dashi is a basic Japanese stock made from kombu seaweed and dried bonito fish. You can make dashi from scratch, but using store-bought dashi granules to prepare dashi stock is still a great way to make niku jaga at home.
Instead of cooking sake, I usually use drinkable sake for cooking Japanese dishes. My Asian supermarket usually has several cheap options in different bottle sizes to choose from, and they are not expensive too, typically less than US$10 for a 750 ml bottle. When they have sales going on, sometimes even the 1500 ml bottle is under US$10! If you have an Amazon Prime membership, you can also order Gekkeikan sake online.
For soy sauce, I prefer using soy sauce imported from Japan since it has lower sodium and also tastes better than US Kikkoman. If you must use US Kikkoman soy sauce, please choose the low sodium version.
1. Prep meat and vegetables
If you buy pork or beef in a slab, you must start by cutting the meat into thin slices (hot pot thin). It is easier to cut partially frozen meat into thin slices compared to fresh meat, so chill them in the freezer until slightly solid before cutting.
For potatoes, peel and cut each into eight wedges. And for onion, peel and cut into thin slices.
If you are using other vegetables like carrots, cut them so they take about the same time to cook as the potatoes.
2. Cook meat potatoes
Heat oil in a pot over medium-high heat and lightly sauté thinly sliced pork/beef. Add potato and onion, mix well.
3. Cook the sauce
Add all sauce ingredients (dashi stock, sake, soy sauce, sugar, and mirin) into the pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the potatoes, and other vegetables, are tender (about 15 minutes).
4. Prepare green beans
Meanwhile, blanch green beans and cut them into thin diagonal slices. I always store frozen green beans at home, so this is an automatic add-on. You can also use snow peas instead of green beans.
Turn off the heat and transfer to a serving bowl. Scatter blanched green beans on top of the stew and served immediately with steamed white rice.
TIPS: Store the blanched green beans separately from the leftover stew. You don’t need to reheat the blanched green beans, just the leftover stew.