Introduction: Nikujaga Bacon Potato Soup (Japanese Fusion)

Have you heard of a Japanese dish called "Nikujaga"?

"Niku" means meat and "jaga" means potato (the right word is "jagaimo"). It's not so well known as sushi or teriyaki chicken or tempura here in the states. But nikujaga is a very popular dish in Japan. We make it at home like 2 or 3 times a month with thinly sliced beef (have you heard of "shabu shabu"? mmm yum yum).  So I wanted to make it here. But it's hard to find thinly sliced beef except for thinly sliced ham or turkey ham or BACON! So I thought why not use bacon instead. And it was delicious!

Then I noticed something... My guests were not only enjoying eating the potatoes and bacon but also drinking the liquid like soup! We don't drink the liquid part. It's more like sauce. But, hey why not? It's yummy! So here I am posting Nikujaga soup!

Step 1: Ingredients

4 servings.
The whole process probably takes 1 hour and a half.   
  • 4 Russet Potatoes or Yukon Gold or Golden Potatoes (1 potato per person), cut into a big bite size
  • 4 Carrots (1 carrots per person - add more if you like but this is bacon POTATO soup so...), cut into a bite size
  • 1 big yellow onion (if you don't like onions, add more sugar because onion adds natural sweetness to this dish) Cut into 12 to 16 pieces. Watch YouTube Video how to cut the onion.
  • 4 thick slices of bacon (I used Trader Joe's trims and ends - it has thick pieces usually) cut into 3/4" to 1" pieces
  • 1 TB Safflower oil or sunflower oil or organic canola (any vegetable oil)
  • 1 TS sea salt
  • 4 or 5 cups dashi (Japanese fish/kelp stock - recipe follows) or 4 or 5 cups water and 1 package of powdered 'katsuo (bonito)' dashi (see a photo)
  • 1/4 cup sake or white wine
  • 2 TB Evaporated Cane sugar (I mean, sugar)
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1 cup frozen green peas or edamame (sort of garnish) 

Step 2: Cut Veggies and Bacon

Cut a potato into 4  to 5 pieces. 

Cut carrots into a bite size pieces - It's much bigger than carrots for chicken soup or any soup. 

Cut the onion into 12 to 16 pieces. But don't slice it like you always to.
Watch the YouTube Video The widest part is about 3/4" or so. 

Cut the bacon into about 3/4" to 1" pieces. I used Trader Joe's trim and ends - which is cheaper and has thick bacon pieces. I picked pieces with less fat. But you DO need that fat to flavor the veggies.

Step 3: Start Cooking

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil and bacon in a large pot or dutch oven to melt bacon fat for  like 2 minutes - bacon shouldn't be crispy.  Add potatoes, carrots and onions. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of salt and gently mix the ingredients just a little bit to distribute the salt evenly, cover and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes - sort of like steaming the veggies with bacon fat! 

Step 4: Making "Dashi"

Meanwhile prepare the dashi stock.

Let me introduce two ways of making dashi:

The easiest way: Boil about 5 cups of water.  Add powdered dashi. That's it!

I use "all natural (what does that mean anyway?)"  dashi without SMG & preservatives. The picture I have posted here is one of the major ones, I think. Every Japanese store I go to has it.  But your neighborhood "Asian" store may not have this particular brand. And that's okay. There are so many companies making dashi in Japan. So when you go to an Asian store near you, ask for "dashi" without MSG. Sorry if they only have the one with MSG... By the way, I use the red one - Bonito. This one actually has powdered kelp in it and very flavorful.  For this recipe, one little packet will add enough flavor. The green one is kelp stock with shiitake mushroom flavor. You can use either of them. There is another one called "iriko" dashi. Iriko is, I think, dried sardine.  I think it's okay to  use Iriko dashi for this. But if you don't like fish, you may taste the fishy flavor more than bonito.... IMO.

BTW, my boyfriend who doesn't like any seafood like this soup with bonito dashi. He says he doesn't taste or smell any fish...

The (somewhat) traditional way: You need bonito flakes for dashi and kelp.  You can find both at Japanese stores or The Whole Foods Market or natural food stores.  Eden Foods carry both if you can't find Japanese ones. 

Put 2 big handful of bonite flakes (don't be stingy here), a 1"x4" piece or bigger piece of kelp and a pinch of salt in 4 cups of water and let their flavor seep into the water over night. Filter the dashi using a colander and paper towel or a kitchen towel inside and and discard the bonito flakes and the kelp piece. Heat the dashi stock over medium heat until it gets very hot - not boiling. Now It's ready to use..  (Leaving the bonito flakes and kelp in the dashi stock while heating up will add bitterness. So that's a no-no. I usually make bonito furikake with the leftover bonito flakes and give the kelp to my dog - she likes it - I guess I should add the recipe for 'furikake" later... )

Obviously, I did the easiest way!

P.S. Please feel free to ask me if you have questions about dashi. 

Step 5: Add Dashi and Simmer...

The veggies in the pot should be sweating by now. 

Add warm pre-made dashi (the traditional way) or boiled water to cover the veggies- about 4 cups to maybe 5. Add a packet of powdered dashi if you didn't use the pre-made dashi. Bring the soup to a boil.  Add 1/4 cup sake or white wine, 2 tablespoons of sugar and 1/4 cup soy sauce and stir. Cover and lower the heat and simmer for 25 minutes until the potatoes becomes soft. Then remove the cover and simmer for another 30 minutes or longer.  Skim off the scum if you'd like. You can remove the bacon fat with it so this may end up a healthier dish... 

Taste the soup. Add more soy sauce if you want it to be saltier. Add more dashi or water if it's too salty for you.

Add frozen green peas or edamame at the end and cook until they are defrosted and warm in the soup then serve.

Step 6: Serving Suggestion

Would you like a bowl of brown rice with that?

Instead of simmering over the stove, do it in the oven and cook brown rice at the same time! 

Here's the baked brown rice recipe from Alton Brown. I found this is one of the best way to cook brown rice!  

Preheat the oven to 375F.

While steaming the veggies with bacon fat, measure and wash brown rice. Boil more water so that you can use it for both the soup and the rice. Put the washed rice and boiled water (you don't need butter and salt but they definitely make the brown rice tastier) in the oven safe dish and cover with aluminum foil. 

After adding the dashi and bringing it to a boil, transfer the soup to an oven safe dish and cover with aluminum foil or just cover the dutch oven.

Put the brown rice and the dutch oven in the oven and simmer for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, you do the dishes and maybe you can make a side of salad or something :) 

BTW, I already cooked "heirloom forbidden rice" in a separate pot. yeah, that's right. That black rice is "forbidden"! It kinda tastes like brown rice.

Step 7: Leftover on the Next Day

Ok. It's a bad picture. But you can tell most of the liquid is gone.

Add 1 tablespoon of sugar and 2 tablespoons of soy sauce and re-heat it over medium heat. Serve it as nimono.

Or add more dashi stock. Add more sake, sugar and soy sauce and just reheat it and serve it as soup again. It's yummier :)

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