Editor’s note: The theme of Gohan Lab is to help people make simple, tasty “gohan” (meals).

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This week, we'll show you how to whip up a rich meat sauce using simple ingredients.

Together with Kuniaki Arima, the chef who oversaw the cooking aspect of this week's featured dish, we came up with a recipe that draws on the "umami" of aged miso to compensate for the shorter simmering time.

It only takes three steps to prepare.

First, cook garlic, onion and carrot thoroughly with oil to create the aroma, sweetness and umami of the sauce.

No need to worry if you are unable to finely chop the vegetables. They'll turn into a tasty sauce if sauteed until tender.

Next, simmer it, adding sake, tomato and miso for flavor. Miso goes well with tomato and gives the sauce a dark color. Since the salt content varies by product, adjust the miso amount you use to your liking.

Finally, add ground meat. By not sauteeing, the meat turns out fluffy instead of shrinking and hardening. After simmering briefly, the finished dish is like “nikumiso,” a miso-based side dish with ground meat, done Western-style.

You can also try out variations on the meat sauce.

* Add spices

Nutmeg, pepper, chili pepper, rosemary and sage all go great in the sauce. Add a sprinkle when simmering. Adding about 1/2 tsp of espresso powder or bitter chocolate will give it a deeper flavor.

* Add vegetables to make gratin

Good choices to include in your sauce are thinly sliced and cooked eggplant or zucchini, roughly mashed boiled potato and thinly sliced “satoimo” taro, as well as the cabbage listed in this week’s “Arranged Version.” Vegetables blend well with the sauce if they are cooked until tender.

* Combine with white sauce

Vegetable gratin will turn richer if white sauce, introduced two weeks ago, is poured over the meat sauce. The combination is also applicable to “doria” (rice covered with white sauce and baked in the oven) and lasagna.


(Supervised by Kuniaki Arima in the cooking aspect and Midori Kasai in the cookery science aspect)

* Ingredients (Serves 2-3)
150 grams ground beef and pork (aibiki-niku), 1 small clove garlic, 1/4 (50 grams) onion, 1/3 (50 grams) carrot, 1 small tomato (100 grams, canned tomato may be used), 1 and 1/2 Tbsp olive oil, 1 Tbsp miso, 100 ml sake, 100 ml water, 80 to 100 grams (per person) pasta, bit of Italian parsley

1. Squash garlic and chop. Finely chop onion and carrot into 3-4 mm square dices (PHOTO A). Chop tomato.

2. Add olive oil and garlic in pot and place on low heat. Draw out the aroma slowly, then add onion and carrot and raise the heat a little. After mixing with spatula so oil coats the ingredients, spread mixture to cover entire bottom of pot and heat without mixing. Mix lightly after about a minute and spread in similar fashion. Repeat this until the onion's edges start to color slightly over heat that does not singe the ingredients (PHOTO B).

3. Add sake, miso and tomato to pot. Bring to a steady boil to burn off alcohol.

4. Add water, mix and simmer for 5 minutes after content comes to a boil. Check taste and if flavors are blended, mix in ground meat (PHOTO C). Bring to a boil and simmer for another 5 minutes.

5. Bring water (with 10 grams of salt per liter) to a boil and cook pasta. Drain, return pasta to pot and add meat sauce. Mix chopped parsley and olive oil (not listed above) to taste.

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Kuniaki Arima is the owner-chef of Passo a Passo, an Italian restaurant in Tokyo’s Fukagawa district. Midori Kasai is a professor at Ochanomizu University and chairwoman of the Japan Society of Cookery Science.


(Serves 4)

Boil 5 to 6 cabbage leaves in a liter of hot water with 10 grams of salt until tender. Cut into 10-cm wide pieces. Cut off cores and finely slice them. Thinly coat dish for gratin with olive oil. Lay cabbage, spread meat sauce and top with cheese of your choice, such as powdered cheese and mozzarella. Repeat the layering of cabbage, sauce and cheese three to four times to suit the size of the dish. Bake in oven heated to 200 degrees for 15 minutes.


In addition to the salty taste, miso has sweetness, umami and sourness and is said to have more than 200 aroma components. It has different flavors, depending on the type of “koji” (fungal fermentation starter) used and the length of the maturation process. Its addition to the cooking process of meat and fish increases the complexity of the flavor. Like spices and fermented seasonings, miso can mask unpleasant odors.

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From The Asahi Shimbun’s Gohan Lab column