Nearly Nikujaga Soup

January 27, 2015
Nearly Nikujaga Soup

Author Notes: Inspired by my maternal grandmother, Marion, I wanted to make a satisfying weeknight potato dish with enough heft to call dinner. All of my memories of her cooking are wrapped up in feelings of warmth and comfort, simple, honest food that tasted good and filled your belly. Although I’ve never had classic nikujaga, she would always make the traditional Okinawan dish rafute– pork belly slowly braised in brown sugar and soy sauce. Nikujaga, a sugar-soy based beef and potato stew from Japan is surely a close cousin. I thought an umami enriched chicken stock base would lighten the strong, dark braising liquid and make it suitable for sipping with a spoon. gingerroot

Serves: 2-4, depending on appetite


For almost dashi:

  • 3 ½ cups store bought or homemade chicken stock
  • 4" x 4" piece dried kombu, wiped (but not washed) with a clean towel
  • 1 1/2 inch piece fresh ginger (slightly thicker than your thumb), peeled, cut into six coins, lightly crushed with the back of a knife

For potatoes and pork:

  • 5 1/2 ounces piece of boneless pork belly
  • 2 teaspoons canola oil
  • 1 bunch green onions, white and light green parts only
  • 2 large russet potatoes (11/2 - 1 3/4 lb)
  • 2 1/2 cups mizuna, washed and thoroughly dried
  • Shichimi Togarashi for serving
  • For the braising liquid:
  • 1/3 cup sake
  • 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons reduced sodium, gluten free Tamari
  • 1/4 cup water
In This Recipe


  1. Start almost dashi: In a small saucepan, combine the chicken stock, kombu and ginger coins. With cover slightly ajar, slowly heat the mixture over medium low heat.
  2. Prep potatoes and pork: Using a sharp knife, slice pork belly crosswise into ½” thick pieces. Lay each slice flat and cut in half. Place in a small bowl and set it next to your stovetop. Slice the green onions into thin rounds –you should have about 1/2 cup. Peel, quarter and cut potatoes into roughly 1" pieces –you should have about 4 cups. Chop mizuna (or other greens) into 1" lengths. Set vegetables in bowls near stove.
  3. Make braising liquid: In a glass one cup measure, combine sake, brown sugar and tamari. Stir to dissolve sugar. Set next to bowl of pork.
  4. Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat, swirling pot to evenly coat. When oil is just shimmering, add pork and cook, allowing each side to brown for a minute or two before turning. Add green onion and potatoes, and continue to cook for about a minute, stirring gently to combine.
  5. Add the braising liquid, a few tablespoons at a time, to the pork and potato mixture. Stir after each addition and lower the heat if it starts to burn. Once you’ve added all the liquid, fill cup measure with ¼ cup of water and add that to the pot. Cover with lid and adjust heat as necessary to slowly simmer for 20 minutes.
  6. Remove kombu from chicken stock and discard. Ladle enough stock into potato pot to just cover with liquid. Cover and continue cooking until potatoes are fully cooked and tender, about 15 minutes more. Ladle in remaining warm stock and stir in chopped mizuna. Allow soup to cook for a minute or two more to slightly wilt the greens. Serve immediately in soup bowls topped with a pinch of shichimi togarashi. Enjoy.

More Great Recipes:
Soup|Green Onion/Scallion|Pork|Potato|Sake|One-Pot Wonders|Fall|Winter|Gluten-Free