Who says that Japanese food has to be all about seafood and rice? With the exploding popularity of richly marbled “Kobe Beef,” by now most people know that Japanese food is about way more than sushi, sashimi, tofu, and rice. The high-end beef like that marketed as Kobe Beef, however, is not the kind of meat you eat very often, if only because of the sky-high prices it can demand. For something beefy and more downhome, turn to “nikujaga,” which means “meat-n-potatoes.”
The meat called for here is not expensive. Thinly sliced beef or pork trimmings should work just fine for this, as long as they are just moderately fatty (too much fat is gross, and too little makes for tougher pieces of beef). As for the potatoes, they should not be too large, or else they will not cook through. Japan has an abundance or small potatoes similar to what some places in the world would call “new potatoes,” and these are the ones to be used.
The dish is simple, though not quite as simple as the name may suggest. Beyond just meat and potatoes, there are also carrots, onions, and of course a flavorful assortment of sakes (Japanese rice wine), soup stock, soy sauce, and sugar into which this meaty almost-mirepoix is cooked. First, the potatoes, the onion and meat are cooked in a fry pan with some oil. Once the meat has cooked through, and the vegetables and potatoes are mostly cooked, the whole kit-n-caboodle is steamed to perfection in its own juices and the soy sauce/rice wine mix.
The beauty of this dish is that it can be thrown together in haste and still taste delicious, or is can be made with better cuts of meet for an even more outstanding end result. It’s also great even at room temperature, or for example as your next day’s lunch.