This non-traditional Japanese dish has a history of its own.
Imagine your favorite kind of soup, but better. As the weather freezes up and the trees shed their leaves, more and more of a particular dish starts popping up on the dinner tables all over Japan: the cream stew. Cream stew made up of milk, butter, and flour, and usually contains a few kinds of veggies and a preferred meat, eaten together with either bread or rice. As is already apparent, cream stew is an extremely versatile form of Japanese comfort food — there are no correct ingredients that go into it. It’s also likely the most underrated Japanese dish of all.
Cream stew, as the Japanese know it today, didn’t originate until after WWII. Before then, there had certainly been a hype around “brown stew,” which Japanese chefs emulated after Western cuisine and usually contained beef. Brown stew was insulated in the niche of the upper class, who enjoyed international cuisines at restaurants. Common folk never enjoyed brown stew.
But you could say that cream stew, or otherwise referred to as “white stew,” had its origins on the humbler end. This dish was initially invented out of the government’s interest in serving healthy, balanced, and cheap meals to school children in the struggling years following the war. Japan was so poor at the time that the government could not even afford milk, but instead used a powdered-down version from skimmed milk.
Cream stew became so popular among children in the schools that families all over Japan would soon scramble to find the perfect recipe to recreate it at home. As TVs started appearing in the regular Japanese home, reality cooking shows frequently disclosed the latest hacks on cooking the best cream stew to surprise your family. It proved to be quite a tricky dish; aspiring home cooks would find that the flour would easily ball up together instead of generate the ideal creamy consistency.
All of this changed with the introduction of rū, a powder that substitutes for the ingredients of the white sauce (from the word roux, mixture of fat and flour heated together to make a sauce.) As a major Japanese food-manufacturing brand, House Foods Group steps up to the challenge and produces the first rū in history that attempts to recreate the cream stew everybody loved back in school.
The definition of comfort food can be a complex one, and cream stew manages to fit it in all angles. First of all, it’s not usually served in the restaurants; when you have cream stew, it’s always at home, whether your mom cooks it or you’re the one serving. This then leads to customization of the dish according to each household. Some families opt to have bread with it while others like to have rice. My family couldn’t settle on either, so now we just have whichever we feel like having.
But other families also argue over how to have the rice: with the stew poured over it, like risotto, or separately? Seemingly a childish war, this dispute does regularly encroach on newly-weds and couples who have just started living together. “My partner turns out to have cream stew poured over their rice. It’s unacceptable. What should I do?” are some common words of devastation heard across Japan. In fact, there could be a reason to this, according to Mr. Tamura, a business manager at House Foods. He speculates that the way people have cream stew could be influenced by the common traditional dishes from their home region. For example, in regions that are used to having carbs soaked in liquids, such as Okinawa with their champon noodles, people tend to also prefer pouring cream stew over rice and having it together.
Such is why cream stew should be counted as the epitome of comfort food. There’s no right or wrong, there’s only whatever reminds you of home. Cream stew, cooked in a huge family pot, containing any combination of vegetables and protein, is usually enough to sustain a family for a hearty dinner and still have its magic live on into breakfast the next morning. With the rū substituting for the complicated sauce-mixing process, it’s incredibly easy to create. It’s cheap, affordable for even the poorest of households. The creamy smell of cooking butter reminds you of wild lunchtime at school, of intimate family dinners, of Japan when you’re outside of it.
Recipe for the Classic Cream Stew
If you’re in Japan, there’s no reason not to try cream stew. As it’s extremely difficult to find it in a restaurant, make this your Japanese family-style cooking experience and grab the most appealing box of rū from your nearest grocery store. While rū was initially a powder, now they come in neat little cubes, packaged in paper boxes. Since the cubes are all the same size, kind of like chocolate, you know exactly how much you need for the number of people you are feeding.
- Fry your chosen veggies in a pan with oil.
- Throw some meats in (chicken works best.) It doesn’t have to cook completely at this stage.
- Fill a pot with water, once it’s boiling, throw in 1 + 2 steps mentioned above.
- Once the meat looks fully cooked, turn off the heat and drop in the appropriate amount of rū.
- Stir until the cubes melt.
- Pour in a small portion of milk of your choice.
- Keep stirring and pouring milk until your desired consistency is achieved.
- Serve, with either bread or rice. Or just as a soup!