Nick Jagger 肉じゃが (Japanese style braised meat and potato dish)

Huh??? Who’s Nick Jagger? Is it the misspelling of Mick Jaggar?  Or is it his brother, or another related family member of his, as far as officially reported (you never know though.) In Japan, it’s spelled “Niku Jaga”, but it’s actually pronounced as Nick Jaggar.

OK, time to stop joking around. Nick Jaggar, or Niku Jyaga, literarely “Meat (Niku) and Potato (Jaga-imo)” in Japanese, and is one of the Japanese staple dishes. It’s like mom’s home cooking to many people.

So, is it the same thing as American meat and potatoes, which is normally huge steak and baked potato in the skin? No not really… Remember my last post? Yes, you guessed it right! The Japanese version has a lot more potato than meat (since meat, especially beef is so expensive there), and cooked in you guessed it, a soy sauce and mirin mixture. That smell is very distinctive and fills many Japanese kitchens!  This is it!

Nikujaga, the Japanese meat and potato dish

Nikujaga, the Japanese meat and potato dish

There are several different versions: some people put carrots (like my version), or green beans (I thought about it, but decided to use them for my favorite Turkish dish), or shirataki or ito-konnyaku noodles… Some are soupy, some are not. Actually in our household, I make it with ground turkey, since my hubby from Meat and Potato country Wisconsin doesn’t eat red meat!!! What’s wrong with him? (Long story…. He used to, but when he lived in Japan, he found the price of meat (especially beef) so high, he decided to live witout it.) Since then, he doesn’t eat red meat, even when we visit his family in Wisconsin, which is kind of a problem, because there is not much else to eat in winter in Wisconsin…. It’s not Bay Area, where there are many Vegans and vegetarian options. Hey… I can cook this Nick Jaggar thing when we are there during our upcoming family reunion! Made with all familiar ingredients, they may like it too. They will LOVE IT! Then I can have a break from American meat and potato dishes! (and hot dogs!) Anyway, because of that reason, and my unwillingness to give up all these meat dishes at home, I’ve made a compromise to cook most of my meat based dishes with poultry.

One more thing about using thinly sliced meat or scrap meat. This dish taste better when there’s some fat on the meat. So, when you are at the butcher, ask them to cut that sort of meat (shoulder, loin etc.) very thinly or just use ground meat.

Ingredients: Serves 4

  • Thinly sliced beef or pork, cut bite size (or use meat scraps) or ground turkey, 1/2 lbs (200-250g)
  • 1 Medium onion, sliced
  • about 1 1/2 lbs (700g) potatoes, peeled and cut in bite-size pieces (Note: Use Yukon gold or red potatoes if you want to keep the shape of potatoes)
  • 3-4 carrots, peeled and cut in bite-size pieces
  • 1 1/2 tbs sugar
  • 2 tbs mirin
  • 3 tbs soy sauce
  • 1 1/2 tbs sesame oil

Directions:

  1. Heat sesame oil in a large skillet or a shallow pan on high (make sure you have a matching lid). Cook thinly sliced onions until translucent. Add the meat cut into bite size pieces and cook until the meat starts to change color.
  2. Add sugar, mirin and soy sauce and mix it well with ingredients from #1.
  3. Top with potatoes and carrots , add about 2 c of water (make sure the vegetables are covered up to about 2/3 of their height) Cook on High with the lid on. If you are cooking in a skillet, make sure the water is not too high (it will boil up like crazy.)
  4. Stir the pot every 5 minutes or so, making sure the food doesn’t get burned. If the liquid is almost gone before the vegetables are tender, add some extra water. (We are steaming vegetables here with this liquid, but we don’t want the final dish too soupy, so the harder the veggies are, the more water you will need.)
  5. When the vegetables are cooked through and tender, remove lid, stir from the bottom a few times, and let the rest of liquid evaporate a little more. Serve hot with steamed rice.

Variation:

  • If adding green beans, do so after potatoes and carrots are relatively soft, the last 5 minutes or so of cooking.
  • If adding shirataki noodles: first rinse in salted water, cook in clean water, boil for 5 min, release in cold water, squeeze out water and cut in bite size pieces. Add this in when you add potatoes and carrots.

Bon Appetit!   いただきまーす!

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Cultural difference about food portions… Iri-dofu いり豆腐 (Tofu Scramble)

Iri-dofu, Japanese scrambled Tofu

Iri-dofu, Japanese style tofu scramble

There are many different cultures assimilated into Japan from other countries.  Since I live in the US, that is the most obvious connection. However, we recently rented a cottage on the Oregon Coast with our sister-in-law’s family for about 5 days and learned about some of the differences.  We cooked many wonderful local seafood dishes in our rental cottage, and I found some very interesting differences between Japanese and American food cultures.

I offered to cook during the trip, and as all of us were sightseeing together, we also went shopping together on the way back home.  Each time, I asked what everyone wanted to eat, etc, to be a nice sister-in-law.  Very PC, right?  For some reason, my sister-in-law Amy thought the amount of things I tried to get for dinner (especially meat and seafood) was very small.  At our house, we normally buy 1/2 pound, which is 8 oz (225g) for two of us, unless we want to make extra for leftovers.  My husband (her brother) eats what I cook everyday, and we often go grocery shopping together, so he’s ok with 4 oz per person thing.  As a matter of fact, that’s what the FDA suggests as a “healthy” not “hefty” serving size. (Yes, that deck of a card portion thing, if you’ve seen it somewhere.) Given that they don’t live with us I decided 5-6 oz per person should be more than enough.   So, for 4 of us, I though1 1/2 pound (6oz each) would be plenty.  What I didn’t tell them was that I was planning to cook 2-3 more dishes, which was more than the side of “steamed green beans and corn.” 

At dinner, they didn’t eat as much as they said they would eat.  The total amount of food from all the dishes I cooked for dinner was actually a lot more than they are used to, so we ended up with quite a bit of leftovers.  It was like 8+1+1=10  vs 4+3+2+2=11.  I didn’t want to look like this evil person who’d be so stingy that I left everybody hungry for the night, so I decided on the 8 oz portion, and it ended up 8+3+2+2=15!  This makes total sense.  Americans are used to one big dish and maybe a tiny salad or side (unless it’s Thanksgiving or something), but Japanese eat one smaller main dish (with a lot less animal protein), and many side dishes which consists of many different ingredients, as you see in the mathematical formula.  I read in Japan before that we should try to eat 30 different ingredients everyday (and ideally its different from day to day.)  In the US….  hmm……  No wonder many Americans take multi-vitamins and Japanese don’t seem to be so into vitamins.  Culturally, we feel like we should take them all from the food we eat! 

Probably the best reflection of these differences is the quintessential American and Japanese dinner out.  American version:  Nice extra large steak, extra large potato, lots of sour cream, and maybe a big salad (maybe Ceaser to reduce the variety of food.) About 5 kinds of food.  Japanese version: Kaiseki, which is a dozen or so courses of extra small, bite size dishes that consist of 10 differnt ingredients for each.  Or even if you don’t spend that much money and/or time for it, we go to Izakaya and order many small plates of various dishes and share.  50 kinds, 100, more????  Do we count different fish as one or seperately????

Of course, we don’t do that at home (as you can imagine, a huge burden on the chefs), but you get the idea.

We also cook many dishes with very little meat — almost using meat just for flavors.  I remember when we went to Turkey, we told our friends that my husband doesn’t eat meat.  She said “Oh, don’t worry.  In Turkey, most dishes are made of pretty much all vegetables and very little meat except for flavor.”  It’s a little bit like that.

This dish I share with you is similar.  Most of the protein is from tofu, and a little bit of egg and tuna are added for flavor and texture.  You can easily make this vegetarian.  I love this dish with steamed rice.  It’s cheap, easy to prepare, tasty, and makes me feel like I’m back at home…

Oh, one thing about tofu.  When you make Japanese dishes, please use Japanese style tofu.  There are Chinese and Korean types (and probably American too that you could find at health food stores, etc.) but the texture is often different.  For this dish, you may want to use Momen-dofu, which is the medium-firm kind.  House tofu and Azumaya tofu are readily available.  Kinugoshi-dofu, which is medium soft kind is too soft and watery for this dish.

About the serving size.  Like I mentioned above, if this dish was served in Japan, it would be for 4 people, because it will probably be served as a side dish along with a few other dishes.  Typically dinner consists of 1 soup and 2 dishes (一汁二菜).  If the wife cooks 1 main and 3 sides (一汁三菜) if she’s better, and some even prepare 4 or 5 dishes , which is considered to be the tops for Japanese wives.  Now, the secret of many…  They often serve something called jobi-sai (常備菜)which means a dish which is always around (in the fridge), or things like Tsukudani, tsukemono, something from deli (they call it Depa Chika, which means Basement of Department Stores, where you can find all different kind of food stores and restaurant take-out (only) places.)  Probably in a regular non-Asian family tables, this would be served as a main dish, then it’ll be for two.

Iri-dofu  いり豆腐(Tofu Scramble)

Ingredients (Serves 2 as main dish, 4 as side dish)

  • Tofu (Momen, in the US, use medium or medium firm)  1 block (about 400g)
  • Tuna 1 can (6oz 170g), packed in olive oil kind preferered, DO NOT DRAIN OIL
    • If its in water, drain water well, use 2 TBS Olive Oil in step 3.
  • Eggs 2, beaten
  • Green onions, sliced 1/2 c (about 3)
  • Sake, 1 1/2 TBS
  • Soy sauce, 1 TBS
  • Kosher Salt, pinch (optional.  If not using, increase the amount of soy sauce to 1 ts to 1/2 TBS)

Directions

A note about the microwave:  As many of you know, the more powerful your microwave is, the shorter you need to cook.  Ours rotates, but is a very small one, the type that barely fits a dinner plate. So, if you have a newer, powerful microwave, please start with half of the time suggested, and add time little by little to obtain desired results.

  1. Drain water in a strainer for 5 min.  To make the next step faster, I scramble tofu loosely and put in a microwaveable container with a lid and a plastic strainer to collect water. Microwave for 3-4 minutes on high.  The easiest way would be to place it on a plate, microwave it without plastic wrap on high for 5 minutes, transfer it into a clean dish towel, wring out the water (please be careful, the water will be extremely hot!).
  2. Heat a pan or skillet with relatively wide bottom and short sides (to allow the water evaporate faster), then scramble the drained tofu with a wooden spoon on high  until water is evaporated.
  3. Add the entire can of tuna with olive oil kept in.  If using the tuna packed in water, add the olive oil before adding the drained tuna.   Mix well and continue to cook to coat the oil well with tofu.
  4. Add Sake, Soy Sauce and sliced green onions.  Continue to stir so that it will not burn.
  5. Add a pinch of salt in beaten egg, and pour it around the tofu.  Stir the tofu quickly with 4-5 chopstickes until firmer.  Serve hot.

Variations:

  • Vegitarian version: 
    1. Instead of tuna, use dried shiitake mushrooms soaked in water for about 30 minutes to 1 hour. To quicken the process, remove the stems, break it in half, soak in water with a pinch of suger mixed with right side up, and top it with a small plate so that mushroom will submerged in water.  Microwave for 2 min (for 4-5 shiitake.)  When the shiitake are soft, squeeze the water out, and slice them thinly (ideally about 1/5 or 1/6 inch, 4-5mm or less.)  Save the juice for later use since it adds a lot of umami (savory flavor) to many Japanese dishes. 
    2. Slice other vegetables such as carrots and snowpeas/green beans (for color and vitamin A and C) thinly and about 1 inch long.  Use a slicer if it’s more convienient.  If you prefer to cut them larger (1/2 inch cube), then make sure to either microwave or boil carrots until crisp tender. 
    3. At step 3, add oil and vegetables instead of tuna.  You may want to add a little more soysauce and some sugar (about 1/2 TBS) to add more flavor.
  • You can also use soaked and squeezed hijiki seaweed with other carrots, snowpeas.
  • For crunchiness, also try gobo (burdock root) or renkon (lotus root).  They oxidate easily, so as you cut, release them in water mixed with a bit of rice vinegar or white vinegar.
  • Instead of tuna, try ground chicken (or you can add this to vegetarian version.)
    1. After step 1, heat oil in a pan or skillet, cook ground chicken until well crambled.  Then add carrots, snowpeas and shiitake if using at this point.
    2. Add tofu and follow the directions, 2, 4 and 5.

Welcome to Mari’s East West kitchen!!

Hello — Konnichiwa!

Welcome to Mari’s East West Kitchen!

I’m a native Japanese food enthusiast and world traveller. Food is my passion, both eating and cooking (in that order — I love cooking because it’s creative, and I can eat my delicious creations.) One of favorite pastimes is reading cookbooks… I bring these to bed and dream about them into the wee hours of the night. (My husband says when I do that, I look so happy in my dreams, and I’m often drooling… )  One of my first memories is standing on the chair in my grandma’s kitchen at about 3 years old, very curious, asking a million questions, and begging to help her here and there. We were probably making piroshki. (My grandma isn’t Russian, we are supposedly 100% Japanese, yet my grandparents moved to Manchuria in 1920s, and she learned various Russian recipes from Belarussian ladies in the neighborhood. When Japan lost the war, they lost everything, but she was able to bring the recipes back to Japan in her head – a smart woman!  Likewise, when I came from Japan in 1988, naturally I brought a lot of Japanese recipes and stories with me, and as I go back every year, I bring back more and more.

In Japan pretty much everyone is a foodie. Yes, a lot more than in the US, where I live now. I ended up in the San Francisco Bay Area, probably the top foodie city in the entire US.  Everybody here is interested in healthy and easy gourmet meals, especially Japanese food. Whenever we have a party or potluck, people always ask me how to make the Japanese dishes I bring.  So, I thought – what if I create a blog to share what I eat and prepare for friends and family? Wouldn’t that be fun??? Very often I throw things together and create something unique from what I have on hand, and I am passionate about teaching others to do the same. And l love connecting with people around the world, so this could be a great way to make new friends!

One disclaimer — I’m just a food enthusiast, and not necessarily a purist. So depending on my mood, I cut corners or do creative things, which may horrify purists. Yet my attitude is that if it’s delicious, healthy and fun, it’s all good.  Food is all about LOVE and nourishment – there shouldn’t be any stress around it.

So what can you expect in this blog?  I’m planning to introduce Japanese food and food culture to you.  Some recipes you can make easily at home of course, and also what you need, what you can substitute (including for vegetarians), and how you can use these ingredients in other ways (then you too can create “fusion” dishes.)  Some funny travel and food stories.  And yes, favorites and bizzare foods.  Not the really bizzare kind like Andrew Zimmern on Food Network, but Japanese staples that may sound a bit weird to non-Japanese.  From time to time, I may write about food from other cultures.  One reason is that Japanese cuisine has adopted many foreign foods as if it’s their everyday food, so I it’s been in my blood since birth (like these piroshkis)!   I also love travelling and learning about local culture and of course food, so when I come back from my travels, I recreate some of these local dishes in my kitchen to savor the good memories long after we return home. 

Oh, and I’m planning to bring some reports from Japan some when I go back, but also regularly from my good friend Kogure-san (Ko-grei-san), a professional chef.  I think it would be great fun for my readers –  just like travelling there for a while for free!

I would be thrilled if you experiement with some of my recipes, and let me know how you liked them.  I learned how to cook dishes from other countries that way – and you can do it too!  Also if you have any questions or requests, please let me know.  I’ll try to do my best to answer, or have Chef Kogure help you.

So welcome to my blog — I’m so happy to have you to visit my kitchen to share some good food and friendship, and talk about many different kinds of food all day long!

Happy cooking — and eating!!

Mari