Japanese Potato Stew: Nikujaga

Presented by: Amy Snyder Ohta, from Kirkland

Cook's Note: When I saw your announcement about potato dishes, I immediately thought of this wonderful Japanese stew. This potato stew is Japanese home cooking at its simple best, a dish that virtually everyone from Japan fondly remembers from mother’s or grandmother’s kitchen. It makes a wonderful dinner on a cool day. Meat is a necessary part of the dish, though it needn’t be beef (it may be chicken or pork, though beef provides a better color contrast with the potatoes), and less meat can be used.

I am not Japanese, but I am a professor of Japanese language and linguistics at UW. While living and working in Japan, I went to a Japanese cooking school (not a cooking school for professionals, but a ‘bridal training’ cooking school). My husband, who also cooks, is from Japan, and Nikujaga is one of his favorites. We both enjoy making Japanese dishes.


  • 3 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cut into hearty, stew-sized chunks (cut small potatoes in half, medium potatoes in fourths, and large potatoes in 6 to 8 pieces)
  • 1 pound lean ground beef (or stew meat cut in bite-size pieces, or thinly sliced beef, the most traditional choice)
  • 2 onions
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cooking oil
  • 9 tablespoons soy sauce, divided
  • 1 heaping teaspoon finely chopped fresh ginger (optional)


Peel the onions, cut in half, and slice. Set to sauté with oil over a low to medium flame, stirring from time to time. When onions are soft, turn up the heat a bit, add the beef to the onion pan, and brown. When beef is browned, add 6 tablespoons of soy sauce and the sugar to the pan, stir, and simmer briefly. Remove from heat.

Meanwhile, peel and cut up the potatoes. Place potatoes in a deep saucepan. Add water so that potatoes aren’t completely covered but so that the tops of the potatoes are sticking out a bit (the Japanese have a word to describe this—‘hita hita’—water nearly to cover). When potatoes are nearly done, add the meat and onion mixture, sugar, additional soy sauce and ginger (if desired). Simmer until potatoes are done. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Serve in individual bowls, ladling over the sauce. To make a Japanese meal, serve with a side of rice, bowls of miso soup, a vegetable side dish and some Japanese pickles.

Garnishes and Variations

I like to use a bright green vegetable as a garnish, such as peas or green beans. Carrots are a popular addition to this stew. To add carrots, slice them thickly at an angle, and add them at an appropriate point while cooking the potatoes so that they don’t get over-done.

This dish is even better the second day—it improves after a night in the refrigerator.


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