Adding one surprise ingredient is said to make this classic Western-style Japanese dish pair extra well with white rice.

Our Japanese-language reporter Seiji Nakazawa almost never watches TV except when he’s in a sauna room. The other day, when he was relaxing there while absentmindedly watching the screen, a cooking segment managed to capture his full attention. The variety show Ariyoshi Seminar was covering Tokyo’s Kokonoe Sumo Stable, which is said to cook up some of the best gourmet food of any sumo training hall, including, of course, chankonabe hot pot, the traditional staple of the sumo wrestler diet. What really piqued Seiji’s interest, though, was an inside glimpse at another dish that Kokonoe prepares for its sumo wrestlers, which is also one that a lot of ordinary people also cook for themselves at home in Japan: cream stew.

▼ Japanese-style cream stew served with rice

Now, almost everyone Seiji knows has a preference for eating cream stew alongside either Japanese-style white rice or bread. Seiji thought rice must be more becoming of a sumo stable, but he could also understand why some may think that a dish of Western origin made using large amounts of milk and cream might not pair the best with rice. However, according to the head cook at Kokonoe Sumo Stable, they’ve developed a special version of cream stew with a special ingredient that pairs very well with rice. After learning about this easy addition on TV, Seiji decided to try out the cooking tip for himself at home. Before long, a pot of cream stew with chicken and vegetables was simmering on his stove.

Now, let’s get on to the big reveal of that one special ingredient. It’s a familiar sight in Japanese households throughout the year. In fact, it’s something that most families probably already have lying around. The product is mentsuyu, which is a noodle broth base made from soy sauce, mirin, sake, and dashi (bonito stock) that can be used to make a hot noodle broth or as a cold noodle dipping sauce in the summer.

▼ A typical bottle of mentsuyu

The TV segment didn’t quantify how much mentsuyu should be added to the stew, but it showed a video of the head chef pouring a generous amount of it straight from the bottle into the pot. According to him, it would lend a distinctly Japanese sweetness to the dish, which in turn should make it pair nicely with white rice.

Seiji thought it must be important to take into account the size of the pot. Since he was cooking a relatively small portion, he just let a splash of mentsuyu fall into the stew. By rough estimates, for his stew the size of half of the box of Hokkaido Cream Stew Roux (a popular stew base product), he had added about 30 milliliters (1 ounce) of mentsuyu.

He thought for sure that the stew was going to turn darker as a result, but after stirring it well, it was almost impossible to tell that mentsuyu had also been mixed inside. He prepared a plate of stew with rice for himself and took a bite.

Seiji’s first reaction was that it definitely went well with the rice. Regular cream stew has a milky sweetness, but in this version, he could taste the subtle flavor lent by the mentsuyu as well. He could only marvel at its effectiveness.

He also couldn’t resist trying the stew with some bread, and that paired just as nicely. It also unexpectedly enhanced the sweetness of the bread.

To sum it up, Seiji thinks that cream stew with mentsuyu added has endless potential. He has to thank the Kokonoe Sumo Stable for sharing this great tip over TV. Maybe he’ll even pay it back by going to watch some sumo in person sometime soon.

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