4/22/20 Note: if you are a Radical Family Farms CSA member, scroll down to the end to see how I used their mustard greens and Chinese celery for this.
Hello hello hellooooo. I got request yesterday from a follower friend on Instagram for a recipe for the much beloved Japanese White Stew, also known as Cream Stew. Before I moved to Japan, my Gung Gung (Mom’s Dad) used to make this thing called Chicken a la King, basically the filling for a Chicken Pot Pie (and in fact an actual dish) but over rice. My ultimate family comfort dish.
When I made the move to Tokyo, I immediately starting eating ALL the Kare Raisu (Curry Rice) all the time, and trying out all the different brands. One day I stumbled upon a box in the curry section with the writing on it: ホワイトシチュー or White Stew. The picture on the box looked JUST like my Gung Gung’s Chicken a la King- cubes of chicken breast, carrots & potatoes swimming in a sea of creamy white sauce over a bed of steamy white rice- the most beautiful sigh to behold. And lo and behold, it was literally my Grandfather’s dish- albeit milder, kind of artificial in flavour, but what do you expect from a premade sauce? And for that reason, I set out to replicate my Gung Gung’s miracle recipe. As I was only 21 and not a very sophisticated cook at that point (am i now tho?), it never dawned on me just how simple the base recipe actually is.
White Stew is literally, meat and veg in a beschamel sauce. That’s it. Totally gorgeous. BUT in order to get the richness of flavor and a few more complex notes, there are a few things I have devised to give it a kick- the closest I can get to my Gung’s a la King. Still, the whole thing is very easy to make and very difficult to resist saving for leftovers, even when there are only 2 of you and you made enough servings for 4.
Two things I need to mention about the photos here. First, I prefer doing a vegetarian version of this dish, so there is no meat in any of the photos. I will, however give instructions on how and when to add the meat should you decide to have it. Second is that when I made this dish to write out the recipe, we were under lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic. As such, I didn’t have all the ingredients I needed to make the true classic version. However, I love doling out alternative ingredient advice and encouraging people to make recipes their own. So the first photo at the top is from a few months ago when I made the classic version of this dish and the ones at the end are from last night when I was working with what I have.
White Stew (or Gung’s a la King)
Serves 4 (or 2 if you are in it to EAT!)
1 Onion, diced(yellow or white is preferable but any onion, even shallots or green onions work)
4 Brown Mushrooms, sliced or quartered (I wouldn’t use shiitake here because you want something that will get very tender rather than bitey)
2 Medium Carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch chunks (chunky is hearty, but you could do smaller sizes if you want, just adjust the cooking time)
2 stalks of Celery, cut into 1/2 inch chunks (you can use Chinese celery here too! If you do, cut it into 1-2inch pieces and only cook them in the sauce at the end for a few minutes as they cook quickly. You should try adding the leaves in too!)
2 medium Potatoes, peeled or not and cut into 1-1.5 inch chunks (Floury potatoes like Russet work best here but even New Potatoes work, especially when unpeeled)
A small handful of herbs such as Sage, Rosemary, Thyme or Oregano, finely minced ( I even put in lavender one time, that was very interesting!)
Optional- A few small Broccoli florets to garnish
Optional- 1lb Chicken breast, cut into 1/2 inch pieces or thinly sliced if you want (You could also try other kinds of meat such as pork, beef or lamb but definitely slice it thinly)
Steamed Rice to serve 4
1 cup Milk
1 cup Stock and about 1/2 cup extra to adjust the thickness, vegetable or chicken (beef or fish stock will result in a darker and bolder flavour. It won’t be bad but just different)
1t Salt, with more at the ready just in case
1/2t Pepper (many people use white pepper, but I prefer the extra “pepperyness” of black pepper
1 tsp Mustard (dijon is my preference- you could omit this too if you want)
1T Corn starch + 2T Water, mixed together and at the ready for adjusting thickness
First I par cook my potatoes, carrots, celery & broccoli (and chicken if using) ahead of time and set aside so I can throw them in at the same time as the faster cooking veggies. Then I’m not worried about all the different cooking times when I’m making the stew. It also helps to keep the flavor of each individual vegetable (or meat) so they are not completely overwhelmed by the sauce.
I put the potatoes in a pot, cover them with water, bring it to a boil and then down to strong simmer. Cook them for about 3 minutes, then add the carrots, celery (and broccoli if using) and cook for another 2 minutes. You can then use a take them out with a slotted spoon, and put in a bowl of cold water the halt the cooking. Change the water once or twice if it heats up too warm. Use the same cooking water to do the same for the chicken and simmer for about 8 minutes.
Next, make the sauce. Make a roux by heating your butter and a glug of canola oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pan or wide shallow pot on medium. The canola oil keeps the butter from burning. Once the butter has melted and begins to sizzle, sauteed your onions in them for about a minute or two, then add your flour and coat all the onions and oil in it. Allow it to cook for a couple of minutes and keep it moving so it doesn’t brown. Then add your 1 cup of stock slowly, whisking the flour and butter into it. As you do this, you will notice the stock get thicker and thicker as it heats and starts to bubble. As it thickens and starts becoming paste like, do the same thing but this time with the milk. As that begins to thicken, you now have a choice as to how thick you want your sauce. Add as much as you like of the reserved 1/2 cup of stock to make it thinner. If you accidentally make it too thin, use some of the cornstarch and water mixture to thicken it. If you find yourself wanting it even thinner, add more milk. Once you get the sauce to the thickness you want, add the mustard, herbs (reserving a few pinches to sprinkle when serving) and salt then adjust the heat to get it to a gentle simmer.
Once the sauce is simmering, add all of the raw and par cooked vegetables (the broccoli can go in as well if you want) as well as the cooked meat. Give it a good stir to evenly coat everything in the sauce, then allow to simmer for about 5 more minutes or until the vegetables are tender. If you like your veggies al dente, it won’t take long, but make sure your potatoes are tender. Use a fork or pointy end of a chopstick to test one. If you find the sauce starting to reduce too much, just add more milk to thin it out. It’s up to you. Once the veggies are ready, you are ready to serve your stew.
Portion out enough rice for everyone and ladle the stew, contents and all onto the steamed rice. Garnish with a couple florets of the par cooked broccoli (unless you dumped it in the stew), a sprinkling of herbs……. and put your face into your plate. Or if you’re civilized, eat with a fork and spoon, and enjoy!
You can also serve this with extra mustard and even dollops of yoghurt but an extra kick.
If you want to try other kinds of vegetables I think the following would also work: zucchini, yellow summer squash, daikon, cauliflower, peas or even chick peas/garbanzo beans would be super interesting! The main thing is the sauce. I personally think everything else is fair game. Rule should be: parcook the heartier vegetables in boiling water first as described and then finish off in the stew with the faster cooking greens at the end.