Chikuzen is Japanese comfort food: a warming braised chicken, loaded with veggies, that tastes like it simmered all day. It has a wintery feel thanks to the root vegetables and is traditionally served on New Year’s Day. But Chikuzen is equally good all year round. Leftovers make a great lunch the next day and it tastes better the longer it sits. This is such a hearty and healthy meal, I think you’re going to love it as much as my family does.
I need to confess. I never order the chikuzen we have at our Japanese gastropub. Like all Japanese food, its stylized beauty is eye catching: the lotus root shaped like chrysanthemum flowers, the konnyaku ribbons, the carved carrots, etc. But my mom and I agree that restaurant Chikuzen is more about symbolism and tradition than about taste. It tastes fine, but it’s not something you crave. This Chikuzen is the one we always had at home. It’s savory and delicious…something you want to eat again and again. Granted, it’s not the prettiest looking Chikuzen, but don’t let its humble looks fool you. This dish packs a ton of deliciousness and home cooked flavor. What are you waiting for? Let’s get to it.
Let’s Get Started
Chikuzen is famed for its deeply flavorful braising liquid. But instead of using a stock from bones that simmers for hours, we achieve that all day flavor much faster by using some Japanese staple ingredients. Dried shiitake mushrooms, kombu, dashi powder, mirin, and soy sauce combine to create an umami rich braising liquid without spending hours at the stove. I start by reconstituting the shiitakes and kombu in a bowl of warm water.
I let this sit for 20-30 minutes with a small bowl or plate to keep the items submerged. Meanwhile, I use that time to prep the rest of the Chikuzen ingredients.
Prepping the Ingredients
You could always fry your own tofu for this dish, which would earn you brownie points from me and your family. If you have some time, that would be my preference. But sometimes, you just want to get a move on in the kitchen and these packaged fried tofu outlets let you do that. You really can’t beat the convenience and time savings.
Renkon and Gobo
Lotus (renkon) and burdock root (gobo) may be unfamiliar to you, but they are both commonly used vegetables in Japanese cooking. Lotus root tastes a little like a crunchy potato, mild with a slight sweet taste. It’s actually the stem part of the plant and is an easy vegetable to use because of its versatility. You can blanch it and serve it cold in salads, toss it in with other stir fried veggies, sandwich a filling and fry it, or use it in stews. Lotus root is an excellent source of fiber, minerals, and vitamins.
Burdock root is well known for its cleansing properties and has long been used in holistic medicine. A nutritional powerhouse, burdock root is packed with antioxidants, removes toxins from blood, has been used to treat skin conditions such as eczema and acne, and has been shown to inhibit cancer cell growth. Burdock root has a sweet and almost smoky, earthy flavor.
Both lotus and burdock roots have a tendency to brown, so I cover them with cold water to prevent oxidization. Have the bowl of water ready before you start cutting because you will be shocked at how fast these veggies oxidize.
Now that all of the veggie prep is done, it’s time to move on to the chicken. I use thighs here. Their higher fat content adds a richer flavor, and they stay wonderfully moist in the braise. I cut them into rather large chunks because they fall apart a little as they cook down.
Konnyaku is a jellied yam cake. It’s a traditional Japanese ingredient that’s used in many stews, soups, and hot pots. Made from powdered konjac root (also called Devil’s Tongue Yam), konnyaku has a firm, chewy, gelatin like texture. Additionally, it’s a no calorie food that’s high in a fiber called glucomannan, which helps with weight loss. Like tofu, it doesn’t have a lot of flavor on its own, but soaks up the flavors it is cooked in. Konnyaku has frequently been used as a meat alternative in traditional vegetarian cooking, or to add another interesting texture and flavor to a dish with meat like I do here.
Konnyaku needs some help absorbing flavor, which is why it’s often scored, cut, or in this case hand torn, to help the flavors penetrate. I like to get a head start on cramming in some flavor by cooking it in the sauce before adding it to the chikuzen braise.
Cook Off Any Excess Liquid
At this point I take the lid off and let the Chikuzen cook for another 10-15 minutes. There should only be a tablespoon or two of liquid left when you’re done cooking. Most of the flavorful liquid will have been absorbed into the other ingredients, so each bite is a flavor bomb. Stir in the snow peas and then this rustic beauty is ready to serve!
Chikuzen is a beloved traditional recipe in Japan, and I think your family will love this version. Please take a moment to rate the recipe below, and leave a comment. We love hearing from you! And remember to tag us in your pics @funkasiankitchen.
- 8 small dried shiitake mushrooms (about 1 oz)
- 1 cup warm water (for rehydrating dried shiitake mushrooms)
- 1 ½ lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs
- 1 lotus root (renkon) (about 6 oz)
- 1 burdock root (gobo) (about 8 oz)
- 1 block fried tofu cutlet (about 7 ounces)
- 1 piece of kombu about the size of your hand cut into 6–1 ½ inch square pieces
- 2 medium carrots
- 1 block konnyaku (also called konjac) (4.5 oz)
- 12 snap peas (a handful about 1 ¼ oz )
- 2 Tablespoons neutral oil
- 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
- 2 teaspoons dashi powder
- ¼ cup mirin
- 2 Tablespoons soy sauce
- ½ tsp salt
- In a small bowl, put dried shiitake mushrooms and kombu pieces and cover with 1 cup warm water. Put a small plate over the veggies to keep them submerged. Soak for 20-30 minutes, or until tender.
- Take the kombu and the mushrooms out of the soaking water. Reserve the soaking liquid and pour it through a fine mesh to remove any solid particles. Set aside.
- Cut the hard stems off of the inside of the mushrooms and set aside.
- Cut the tofu into thirds lengthwise and then into 6 slices crosswise to yield 18 small pieces. Set aside.
- Peel the outside of the lotus root and then cut into half lengthwise. Cut the lotus into ½ thick semi circle pieces. Place the lotus in a bowl of water to keep it from oxidizing.
- Using the back of a knife, scrape along the outside of the burdock root. Cut the burdock root on an angle in ½ inch pieces. Add it to the bowl of lotus to also keep it from oxidizing. Drain the vegetables right before adding them to the pot.
- Peel the carrot and cut a ½ inch piece on the diagonal. Roll it ¼ of the way and cut it on an angle again. Keep rolling and cutting to yield small multi-faceted pieces. Set aside.
- Rinse the konnyaku and then use your fingers to cut the konnyaku into small ½ inch chunks.
- Pull the string off along the edge of the snow pea pods. Discard the tough strings and set the snow peas aside.
- Bring a small bowl of water to boil. Add the snow peas and cook for 1 minute. Drain the peas in a colander and cool under running water. Cut the snow peas in half on the diagonal and set aside.
- Trim the excess fat off of the chicken and then cut the chicken into thick slices and then across the chicken to yield large 1 ½ inch pieces. Set aside.
- Combine the mirin, soy sauce, dashi powder, and salt in a small pot and stir to combine. Add the konnyaku chunks and bring to a simmer over high heat. Lower the heat to medium, cover with a lid, and simmer for 10 minutes. Turn the heat off and set the pot aside.
- Heat a large pot or dutch oven over medium high heat and then add the neutral oil and swirl the pot to spread the oil. Add the chicken to the pan.
- Leave the chicken untouched for a minute and then stir fry it for another minute. Add the mushrooms, kombu, carrots, and the drained burdock and lotus root. Stir to combine and continue stir-frying for another 1-2 minutes, moving the vegetables around constantly.
- Add the tofu, reserved mushroom soaking liquid and the konnyaku with the sauce. Stir to combine.
- Let the mixture come up to a simmer, stir again, lower the heat to medium, and cover with a lid.
- Cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Take the lid off.
- Continue cooking without the lid, stirring occasionally for 10-15 minutes until the liquid has mostly evaporated. Taste and adjust seasoning with a little salt if needed.
- Add the snow peas and stir to combine. Serve immediately.
Keywords: dashi, chicken, stew, japanese food, lotus root, burdock, healthy asian food