Japanese Food: What is Nikujaga (肉じゃが)?

Nikujaga Ingredients

I really love good Japanese food. There are literally hundreds of foods that I have heard about but never tried. One of the most common foods that I hear about students making is nikujaga. Because it doesn’t take so much time and effort to prepare, it’s a kitchen favorite especially in this town where there are so many university students. The name nikujaga, 肉じゃが, always catches my ear because because when I hear it, it always sounds like people are saying Mic Jagger, the lead singer of the iconic band, the Rolling Stones. At the risk of sounding stupid, I never asked if there was any kind of Japanese/English play on words happening. The word nikujaga is actually abbreviated Japanese, it’s short for meat and potatoes. In Japanese, the word niku, 肉, means meat while the word jagaimo, ジャガイモ (じゃがいも) means potatoes. When you put the two words together and take the いもof the word potato…say the magic words…”NIHONGO KAZAAM!!”…you get the word nikujaga. By and large, nikujaga is made up of meat and potatoes, but depending on the cook, you will see other items. Some common things you might find in nikujaga are carrots, shirataki (thinly sliced cuts of konnyaku, the Devil’s tongue, no seriously…that’s actually the name of it).

I had always heard that making nikujaga was pretty simple, but being the awful cook that I am, I enlisted the services of my good friend Naomi, who is an amazing cook. I have had the pleasure of tasting Naomi’s food before, and it made me wonder why she doesn’t have her own cooking show. So I asked her if she had a super simple recipe for making nikujaga, one that even I, the “kitchen buffoon” could understand. She not only agreed to giving me the recipe, but she said she would show me how to do it. I decided to make a video of my first attempt a nikujaga. Unfortunately, Naomi was a bit shy and didn’t want to be on camera (completely understandable). I didn’t want to force her; I was just SO grateful that she helped me at all:

A Simple Nikujaga Recipe

-100 grams (or about 3.5.ounces) 肉-Niku- Meat- The most commonly used meats are pork or beef. But it’s your food, you can use whatever you like :) Also if you want this dish to be more niku than jaga, you can add more meat, but 100 grams comes from Naom’s orginal recipe and it works just fine.

-2 ジャガイモ-Jyagaimo- Potatoes. I would say two, medium sized potatoes would be ideal.

-1/2 タマネギ-Tamanegi- Onions. Half of a medium sized onion.
-1人参-Ninjin- Carrots. Chop one, medium-sized carrot into pieces.
-1/2 あぶら-Abura- Oil
-1 1/3 cup 出し汁-Dashijiru. One and one-third cup of fish or kelp stock.
-1 large, measuring spoon 砂糖-Satou
-2 large measuring spoons 醤油-Shoyu

With the measuring spoon, I just used the best word that I could think of. These aren’t the traditional measuring spoons like table and teaspoons, I think here in Asia there is a standard, large measuring spoon and small measuring spoon. In Japanese, I heard Naomi say けいりょうスプーン.

You know your ingredients, now what?

Making warishita, わりした.

Warishita is like your nikujaga sauce. This is essential to getting the flavor you want. Take your fish or kelp stock, sugar, and soy sauce and mix them all together. More than likely, the taste will be too strong. Add water to dilute the warishita to your desired taste.

These are very general instructions for making warishita, becuase (truthfully) I cheated, I bought my warishita from a store, and just added water to dampen the flavor a bit.

To make warishita or to buy it? That is the question.

What’s next?

Well, the first thing to do is to cut your potatoes, onions and carrots into pieces. How small you want the cut is really up to you. You will oil the pan using abura, oil (I think any oil will do, as long as your meat doesn’t stick the pan, it’s okay). On the meat starts to turn pinkish-brown, you’ll add the onions, carrots, and potatoes that you’ve cut. You’ll hear that satisfying sizzle, stir all of the ingredients while their cooking (like stir frying). Next, you’ll add any other ingredients you desire, like devil’s tongue, or tofu (which Naomi sometimes uses), etc. Next, add your warishta, to your pan of ingredients, mix a bit, and let it cook (on low heat). This will give the potatoes and carrots time to soften. Once the carrots and potatoes are soft. You’re finished. You can add green vegetables to give your nikujaga some artistic flair. We used green pea skins to garnish our’s, but you can be as creative as you like:

First I want to give a sincere thank you to Naomi for showing me how to make nikujaga. To my readers, I hope you enjoyed watching my amateur cooking skills in action…me try to make nikujaga. I’m sure your’s turns out even better than mine (I thought it tasted pretty good, though).

If you try, let me know how it goes. Or, if you know a lot about making nikujaga, what are some of your tips?

Happy cooking,

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  • Ruth

    This looks pretty good food. I really wanted to experiement. I’ll do. Thanks for the tip!
    Hope to see more culinary tips to ease my daily life.

    • Donald Ash

      Thank you. I may have to get some assistance with the culinary tips because I’m not very good, but I’ll do my best to post some more. Thank you for reading!!

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