Beef Stew with Sweet Potatoes
At least 1 hour, largely unattended
Although this stew has much in common with the humble American beef stew, it is legitimately Japanese and wonderfully flavored with soy, ginger, mirin (the Japanese sweet cooking wine, for which sugar or honey is an adequate substitute), sweet potatoes, and, perhaps best of all, the peel and juice of a lemon. The combination is one of simple and delicious counterpoints that make this a great stew. Ambitious cooks may want to include dashi, the quickly made stock that is one of the most fundamental flavors of Japanese cooking, but the stew is great when made with chicken stock or, for that matter, water. Other cuts of meat you can use here: short ribs (which will require longer cooking time), bone-in chicken thighs (which will cook more quickly), veal shoulder or round.
1 ½ to 2 pounds boneless beef chuck, cut into 1- to 1 ½-inch chunks
2 cups dashi, chicken stock, or water
¼ cup soy sauce
¼ cup mirin, honey, or sugar
10 nickel-sized slices peeled fresh ginger
Salt and black pepper to taste
1 ½ pounds peeled sweet potatoes, cut into 1-inch chunks
1. In a large skillet, preferably nonstick, sear the meat over medium-high heat in two batches until nicely browned, only about 5 minutes per batch, since it’s sufficient to brown the meat well on one side. As you finish, transfer the chunks to a medium-sized flameproof casserole with a lid.
2. When the meat is all browned, add the stock to the skillet and cook over high heat, stirring and scraping occasionally, until all the solids are integrated into the liquid. Pour into the casserole with the soy sauce, mirin, ginger, and a couple of grindings of pepper. Peel the lemon and add the peel to the mixture; juice the lemon and reserve the juice.
3. Cover and cook on top of the stove (or in a 350°F oven), maintaining a steady simmer. Stir after 30 minutes and begin to check the meat at 15-minute intervals.
4. When the meat is tender, or nearly so, stir in the sweet potatoes and continue to cook as before, checking every 15 minutes, until the sweet potatoes are tender but not mushy. (If you choose to prepare the dish in advance, undercook the sweet potatoes slightly and stop cooking here. Let sit at room temperature for up to a couple of hours or cover and refrigerate for up to a day. If you like, skim excess fat before reheating and proceeding, adding a little water if necessary.) Taste and add salt if needed, then stir in the reserved lemon juice and serve.
Faster Japanese Beef Stew
Use beef tenderloin (filet mignon). Brown the meat as directed and reduce the liquid in the pan. Combine the meat, liquid, and all the other ingredients except the lemon juice. Cook until the sweet potatoes are tender, 20 to 30 minutes; stir in the lemon juice and serve.