Here's a dish said to be associated with Japan's greatest military hero, Admiral Togo Heihachiro. Togo was the commander of the Imperial Japanese Navy at the time of Japan's greatest naval victory - the defeat of the Russian fleet at the battle of Tsushima in 1905. Back then, Japan had a very close naval relationship with the UK - in fact, most of its vessels were British designed & built. Admiral Togo studied in the UK and while there, apparently grew fond of a stew of beef and potatoes commonly served in the British Royal Navy.
Literally, "Nikujaga" means meat & potatoes although the "niku" used in the dish is almost always beef or pork (though you can use chicken - there isn't a hard line to be drawn here). "Jaga" is short for "jagaimo", meaning potato in Japanese. This word also has an interesting origin. The "imo" is indigenous to japan and translates as a "taro root". A "jagaimo" on the other hand, is short for "jakarta - imo" because these potatoes found their way to Japan on board Dutch trading vessels from Indonesia - from there they were cultivated in northern Japan and particularly Hokkaido, where the climate and land isn't best suited to rice cultivation.
As ever, the Japanese modified the dish to suit their own palates, so nikujaga is cooked in a soy-flavoured stock. It's really the stock that is the key to the dish - I used pork, potatoes, onions, carrots and some sugar snaps in this recipe but you can use whatever veg you have to hand to add to the potatoes - in Japan, Nikujaga is the kind of dish where every home has its own special recipe and its own variations (the Japanese call this "ofukuro no aji" meaning, "mum's taste").
The pork and vegetables in this recipe are cut into quite small pieces, expecially the carrot, so that everything can cook quite quickly. If you're about to fight a sea battle you probably don't have too much time to cook a stew - so the cooking time for this dish is short - 20 minutes. You can cook nikujaga in advance and then leave it all in the pan for a few hours so that the potatoes soak up more of the flavour from the sauce (what the Japanese call "shimi komi".) In fact, it tastes even better served the next day when it has had time to absorb more of the flavours of the sauce. Nikujaga will keep in the fridge for 2 - 3 days as well if you want to make a big batch and put some aside for another day.
On the subject of potatoes, I used large baby potatoes in this dish (large enough to peel.) I find they are best for absorbing the flavours in the dish. If you can't find large baby potatoes, use a waxy potato rather than a floury one. Why? Because the floury variety tends to break up in the sauce while they are cooking. Just cut the potato a little bit bigger than when using a baby potato as this will help the potato keep its shape while cooking. (PS: Don't be tempted to leaves the skins on, the potato won't soak up so much flavour through the skin - bare is better!)
Japanese Pork Stew - Nikujaga is substantial enough to be eaten by itself but in Japan, it's usually accompanied by bowls of rice.
If this dish has got you in the mood for some Nikujaga, you can find the Youtube tutorial by clicking Nikujaga or by scrolling to the bottom of the page. You can find the written recipe below.
Happy cooking! Kurumi XXXX.
(makes 2 generous servings)
1 medium onion
1 medium carrot
300g/10oz large baby potatoes or potato
250g/9oz pork shoulder steaks
1 tbsp sugar
3tbsp soy sauce
10 - 12 sugar snaps
peel the onion. cut off the top and tail, then halve quarter. cut each quarter into 3 segments
peel the carrot. cut off the top & tail, then cut into small bite sized diagonal pieces. this will allow
the carrot to cook through and absorb more flavour
peel the baby potatoes and cut into bite size pieces. if you use the mature potatoes, cut slightly bigger than bite size, so that they keeps their shape
slice the pork steaks into thin strips
add the water, sugar, soy sauce & mirin to a large saucepan. bring to the boil
add the vegetables & pork, then bring back to the boil. quickly reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 10 minutes with the saucepan lid on. ifyou find any fat or starch coming from the pork or potato, skim it off with a large spoon
after 10 minutes, remove the lid of the saucepan and cook your Nikujaga for a further 10 minutes.
give the pan a gentle mix but be careful not to break up the potato
last but not least, add the sugar snaps and cook for 1 minute with the lid on
serve with bowls of fresh Japanese rice.