A little about stew in Japan: Despite stew’s introduction to Japan in the prewar via trade with the West, it was not until the postwar—and the 1960s more specifically—that it took off as an exotic menu item that was within reach for many consumers. Compared to other iconic Western foods (such as roast beef or meat loaf), by comparison stew uses less meat and easy-to-find staples like onions and carrots. Although most Westerners are more familiar with brown, gravy-like stews, it is the white stew which seems to have captured the hearts and bowls of Japan. Traditionally, a cream stew uses a béchamel sauce, but Japanese varieties often use flour as the thickener.
In my house stew and cream stew is a regular featured on the menu. I make it with whatever I happen to have on hand - potatoes, celery, carrots, parsley, dill, what have you. This version is a little special, as ituses Chinese greens. I recommend bok choi, or spinach, should you not have access to an Asian market. For a different flavor and apperance, napa cabbage would also work quite well.
4 tablespoons butter
1 onion, medium chopped
¼ cup all-purpose flour
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, chopped into chunks
1 large carrot, sliced into medium-size half-moons
2 teaspoons bouillon
1 to 2 bunches Chinese winter greens, coarsely chopped
½ to 1 cup milk
1. Slowly melt butter over medium-low heat in a heavy pot. Add the onion, stirring often and cooking until almost transparent.
2. Add the flour. Mix well until the onions are evenly coated. Continue to cook, scraping away the bits that stick to the bottom of the pan. (As this is a creamy, light-colored stew, we don’t want those dried parts to brown. If we were making a richer, darker stew, we would allow the flour to become a deep chestnut brown. Try to keep the color from tan to light brown at most.)
3. Once the flour begins to stick to the pot with some regularity and the onions smell sweet, add the chicken, and mix well to coat it with the flour and onions. Continue scraping away at the bottom of the pan, taking care not to tear the chicken.
4. Once it the outer layer of the chicken is partially cooked (it will turn white), add the carrot, and stir to coat. Next, add cold water until just covering the top of the chicken mixture. (Be careful not to add too much water. We are making a concentrate stock.)
5. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat, and then add the bouillon.
6. Once the carrots have softened, the chicken is cooked and the broth tastes flavorful, add the greens, and mix well.
7. When the Chinese greens are fully cooked, slowly add the milk, and bring the mixture to a boil. Continue to cook a few moments longer to allow the flavors to blend and develop. Season with salt and pepper.