Typically Western ingredients are combined with a light béchamel sauce in this cross-cultural Japanese White Stew.
Served without context, this traditional Japanese white stew (also called “cream stew”) might genuinely be mistaken for an American or European dish. Its ingredients are plain chunks of meat (usually chicken), potatoes, simple root vegetables and usually a green component for color in a creamy broth (usually with a chicken or vegetable stock base). But this stew has a uniquely Japanese origin.
This recipe was born from the years following imperial Japan’s defeat in World War II. The American occupying forces were responsible for feeding the Japanese civilian population, long suffering the privations of the late years of the war. Among other military rations, the American military supplied copious quantities of powdered milk for the undernourished children—which, as anyone who has tasted it will attest, is not very palatable.
The Japanese solution to utilize powdered milk was to use it in a béchamel to thicken a simple stew. Western root vegetables such as potatoes and carrots had been commercially introduced to Japan in the last decades of the nineteenth century, and these familiar items were easily supplied by the Americans. Add other colorful components such as green beans, broccoli, bell peppers or mushrooms and a household classic was born.
When those war children reached middle adulthood, this uncharacteristically Japanese stew saw a slight resurgence among chefs and restaurants catering to the nostalgia factor. It may not include or demonstrate more cultural ingredients or traditional techniques, but its bare elegance is more Japanese than the recipe itself may reflect.
This stew is very simply spiced, deriving most of its flavor from the béchamel with a butter, dairy and chicken fat base. Almost any starchy vegetable substitutions will work, with milder flavors better than sharp aromatics.
Japanese White Stew
4 chicken thighs
1 yellow onion
2 Yukon Gold potatoes
6 oz green beans
4 oz mushrooms
4 c chicken stock
2 c milk
3 T butter
¼ c flour
1 Cut the chicken into 1-in. pieces and briefly sauté in 1 T butter. Remove and set aside.
2 Roughly chop the onion and sauté in the same pan until translucent, about 5 min. Add the flour, salt, nutmeg and remaining butter and work into a blonde roux. Gradually stir in the milk until a thick sauce forms.
3 Peel and chop the potato and carrot, and cut the beans and mushrooms into similarly sized pieces. Add along with the stock and stir to combine. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 25-30 min.
4 Stir in the cooked chicken, and season to taste.