Although it is considered western-style food (洋食 - yōshoku) in Japan, Cream Stew(クリームシチュー) is a Japanese invention that was likely inspired by a few dishes from the West, including Irish Potato Soup, Banquette de Veau, and Poulet à la Normande. The first printed reference to a stew made with milk appears in a 1924 book by Kaneko Tezuka, and after WWII, a stew made with milk powder was introduced into school lunches to combat malnutrition.
Cream Stew went mainstream when House Foods introduced a powdered roux product in 1966 that made the dish's preparation easy. These days it's common to use bricks of Cream Stew roux similar to the blocks used to make Japanese-style curry.
I wanted to create a recipe from scratch that captures the silky smooth texture and rich umami of the blocks without significantly increasing the effort required to prepare it. After several rounds of testing, I've come up with a new method for making Japanese Cream Stew from scratch that's easier and more foolproof than any method I've been able to find online.
Table of contents
Why This Recipe Works?
- Sauteeing the vegetables not only makes them sweeter, but it also makes them cook faster, reducing the total cook time of this stew.
- By not browning the chicken, you're able to make it extra tender while retaining the stew's snow-white color.
- Cooking the stew in stock and then adding milk powder and cream at the very end prevents the milk from curdling, producing a silky smooth sauce.
- Making the roux from flour and cream makes it simpler and ensures a white roux while making it much harder to break.
- Adding a bit of creamed corn adds both umami and sweetness to the stew.
- Protein - I used skin-on chicken thighs for this because that's how the chicken comes in Japan, and I want to avoid waste. Since the chicken gets added to the water (it isn't browned first), you can use skinless chicken thighs if that's easier to find. I do not recommend using chicken breasts for this as breast meat is very low in fat and collagen, which causes it to dry and get pasty when cooked in a stew. Cream stew is also sometimes made with pork or seafood in Japan, but I don't recommend using meat that will turn the stew brown (like beef). You could also use plant-based alternatives like tofu for this, though you'll probably want to add extra mushrooms to make up for the lack of umami in plant-based meats.
- Vegetables - The traditional vegetables for Japanese Cream Stew are onions, carrots, and potatoes. Mushrooms and broccoli are also often added. That being said, this is delicious with any vegetable that stews well, such as parsnips, kabocha, or sweet potatoes. For the mushrooms, I used oyster mushrooms, but any flavorful mushrooms like shiitake, button mushroom, or porcini will work. I also like to add something green at the end, and broccoli, asparagus, fava beans, and peas are all good options.
- Liquid - Many recipes for cream stew call for a combination of milk and stock. I've tried several iterations, including all milk, half and half, and all stock, and adding milk as a liquid at the beginning always results in the proteins forming curds and separating out. This happens because the vegetables are slightly acidic, and when the heat is applied, the milk separates into whey and curds. This is essentially how ricotta cheese is made and isn't really desirable in a stew as it gives the sauce a gritty consistency. The only way to avoid this is to add any dairy at the very end, which is why I only use stock for the stew. I've used vegetable stock, but chicken stock will work as well.
- Roux - Roux is a mixture of fat and flour, and while there are many ways to make it, I use a combination of heavy cream (47% butterfat) and flour for this Cream Stew. It's important to use a cream with a high fat/protein content; otherwise, you will end up with dough. Since we're cooking the stew with stock, I add milk powder to the roux, which retroactively turns the stock into milk.
- Creamed corn - In Japan, we have a word called kakushiaji, which literally means "hidden taste." It's an ingredient added in a small enough quantity to not be overtly noticeable but pronounced enough to add a little something to the dish. Creamed corn is my kakushiaji for this dish.
Cream Stew Roux
Roux is just a mixture of fat and flour used to add thickness and richness to sauces and stews, ranging from bechamel to gumbo. It's most commonly made by cooking butter and flour together, but for this Cream Stew, I wanted a pure white roux that wasn't going to break when it gets added to the liquid. Since the stew itself is made with stock, the roux also needed to be creamy enough to taste like it was cooked with milk. I've come up with a simple hack inspired by my Chicken Paprikash recipe. Instead of cooking the roux in butter, I mix the cream with flour and milk powder, making a snow-white roux that you can temper with the hot stock from the stew. This literally melts into the stew and thickens it, and the process makes it almost impossible to break or end up with clumps.
How to Make Cream Stew
Heat a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. It's always a good idea to use a heavy pot for stews because a heavy bottom indicates it's made with a dense material, which dissipates heat more evenly. For this stew, in particular, it's essential because it can burn easily.
Add the oil, onions, carrots, and potatoes and saute them while constantly stirring until the onions start turning translucent, but don't let them brown. This will take about five minutes.
Add the stock, chicken, salt, white pepper, and bay leaf, and then bring the mixture to a rolling boil over high heat. You'll notice that some oil and beige foam start to float to the surface. The foam is protein from the chicken(usually blood) and should be removed. I use a mesh skimmer to do this, but a spoon will work as well. Also, because we are adding a ton of cream at the end, I usually skim off as much of the oil coming out of the chicken as possible to keep the stew from becoming too heavy.
Once there's no more foam rising to the surface, partially cover the pot with a lid and turn down the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Set a timer for fifteen minutes.
While the stew cooks, par-boil the broccoli by adding it to a pot of boiling water along with a generous pinch of salt and cooking it for one minute after the water returns to a boil. Drain the broccoli and set it aside.
When the timer is up, open the lid and skim off any additional scum or oil that's accumulated on the surface and then add in the mushrooms. Let this simmer for a few more minutes until the mushrooms are cooked through.
Now you need to temper the roux before adding it into the stew by adding a few ladles of hot liquid from the stew into the roux and whisking it together. This slowly raises the roux's temperature so that it doesn't break. It also allows you to dissolve it evenly before adding it to the stew, so you don't end up with any lumps.
Pour the tempered roux into the stew and gently stir everything together. You want to bring it to a simmer for a bit to thicken the sauce, but do not let it come to a full boil. Add the broccoli in to reheat it and serve the cream stew with crusty bread or rice.
Other Japanese Stew Recipes
Cream Stew transliterates to Kurēmu Shichu (クリームシチュー) in Japanese and is pronounced as follows:
ku like cool
rē like ream
mu like move
shi like sheet
chu like chew
Cream Stew is also known as White Stew (ホワイトシチュー) in Japan, and they are two different names for the same dish.
Cream stew is an easy meal that shows up in homes and cafeterias around Japan because it's comforting and feeds many people. That's probably why it's also made an appearance in many anime and manga, including The Secret World of Arrietty, Charlotte, Log Horizon, Goblin Slayer, and Case Closed (Detective Conan), to name just a few. Cream Stew recently appeared in an episode of the Netflix show The Makanai Cooking for the Maiko House.
Yes, the substitutions you need to make are for the cream, powdered milk, and chicken. Starting with the chicken, you can substitution a combination of tofu and mushrooms. This will give you the umami of the mushrooms with the protein of the tofu. For the powdered milk, I'd suggest using coconut milk powder. Finally, for the cream to make the roux, you can substitute full-fat coconut cream. If your can of cream has separated, I'd recommend skimming off the thick part on top and using that (without the thin liquid at the bottom).
For Cream Stew Roux
- ¾ cup heavy cream (40% or more butterfat)
- 40 grams flour (~5 tablespoons)
- 1 tablespoon dried milk powder
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 250 grams onion (~1 medium onion, sliced ½-inch thick)
- 340 grams carrots (~1 carrot cut into 1-inch pieces)
- 370 grams potatoes (~2 medium potatoes, cut into 1.5-inch pieces)
- 3 cups vegetable stock
- 600 grams boneless skin-on chicken thighs (cut into 2-inch pieces)
- 2 teaspoons salt
- ⅛ teaspoon white pepper
- 1 bay leaf
- 130 grams mushrooms (I used oyster mushrooms)
- 120 grams broccoli (½ head cut into bite-size pieces)
- ½ cup creamed corn
- To make the roux, stir together the heavy cream, flour, and dried milk powder until it forms a smooth paste and set it aside.
- For the cream stew, heat a heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat and add the oil, onion, carrots, and potatoes. Saute the vegetables, constantly stirring for about 5 minutes, or until the onions start turning translucent but do not let them brown.
- Add the vegetable stock, chicken, salt, pepper, and bay leaf, then turn the heat up to high to bring the liquid to a boil. Use a spoon or skimmer to remove any foam or oil that floats to the surface and continue doing so until there is no more foam.
- Turn down the heat to low, partially cover the pot with a lid, and let this simmer for 15 minutes.
- Par-boil the broccoli in a well-salted pot of boiling water for about a minute and then drain it and set it aside.
- When the timer on the stew is up, add the mushrooms, submerge them and cook them through. This should take about a minute or two.
- To temper the roux, add a few ladles of the hot liquid from the stew into your roux and use a whisk to dissolve the roux until there are no lumps.
- When the mushrooms are cooked, pour the tempered roux into the stew, along with the creamed corn and stir this together. Bring the Cream Stew to a simmer to thicken the sauce, but do not let it boil.
- To finish the stew, add the broccoli and heat it up.