I've written about Nikujaga (肉じゃが), or "meat and potatoes" before, it's one of my favorite Japanese comfort foods and it's super easy to make. I recently stumbled across a way to make it even easier and tastier. A definite win-win!
The traditional way to make nikujaga is to simmer beef, potatoes, onions and carrots in dashi, a type of Japanese soup stock. It gives the dish the signature Japanese flavor with an intense umami and a mild smoky flavor from the dried bonito. While <a href="http://norecipes.com/recipe/dashi-recipe">making dashi</a> isn't hard, it does require some extra time. In this version, I've replaced the dashi with some extra sake and tomatoes: Tomato Nikujaga (トマト肉じゃが)!
Yes, I know it sounds kind of crazy given how little tomatoes are used in Japanese cuisine, but both sake and tomatoes are loaded with glutamic acids, which gives this preparation an incredible amount of umami. As an added bonus, the tomatoes impart a mild sweetness and acidity that's a great counterpoint to the savory meat and creamy potatoes.
Tips to make it better:
By stir-frying the sugar with the beef, it helps the beef brown, while giving the braising liquid an earthy caramel flavor that goes beautifully with the potatoes. For the potatoes, although it's purely cosmetic, you can help keep the potatoes from crumbling by using a peeler or paring knife to bevel the cut edges so there are no hard edges on the pieces of potato. Like most stews, this one is always better the second day. If you decide to make this ahead and let it rest overnight, save the snap peas and add them in when you reheat the Nikujaga.
- Heat a pan large enough for all of the ingredients over medium high-heat until hot. Add the oil and sugar and swirl to coat. Add the beef and stir-fry until the beef is mostly cooked.
- Add the potatoes, tomatoes, onion, shirataki noodles, carrots, sake, and soy sauce. Bring to a boil.
- Partially cover with a lid and turn down the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook until the vegetables and meat are tender (about 50 minutes)
- Add the snap peas and cover and steam until they are bright green.