Our stew-loving reporter says a quick dash of one of Japan’s staple seasonings, added at just the right time, boosts the flavor of this cold-weather favorite.

A fierce cold snap has clamped down on Japan since last weekend, and while we’re bundling up with coats and scarves to keep out the chill, the weather also has us looking for ways to warm up from the inside. One of Japan’s favorite cold-weather comfort foods is cream stew, which was a pretty Western-style ingredient list, but our Japanese-language reporter Seiji let us in on a secret ingredient he uses when making the dish.

Cream stew is pretty simple to make, as all you have to do is toss white sauce, carrots, potatoes, broccoli, and chicken into a pot, turn on the flame, and give the mixture a few stirs while you wait for it to cook. When Seiji makes cream stew, though, he also adds a dash of soy sauce.

Introducing such a traditionally Japanese flavor to an otherwise occidental dish is a pretty bold culinary move, and for the best results timing is key, Seiji tells us. Instead of pouring soy sauce into the pot the stew is cooking in, Seiji waits until the stew is ready to eat, dishes up a single-person portion in a bowl, then adds the soy sauce immediately before eating it. “You want to use just enough to make a tiny change in the creamy white color of the stew,” he says.

“It helps give the stew a stronger more focused flavor,” Seiji says. “It’s like putting a laser sight on a shotgun.” However, he admits that when he cooks cream stew, he’s usually using store-bought roux packs or cubes, so if you’re gourmet enough to make your white sauce from scratch, soy sauce may or may not improve the flavor.

But if you’re looking for a way to give your stew a little something extra, soy sauce may be just the trick, and Seiji’s advice is a reminder that sometimes unexpected ingredients can produce delicious meals.

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