This is one of those plain country dishes that really needs to be made with the best ingredients you can find. The key to keeping the freshness alive is not to overcook the meat — or potatoes, for that matter. You will be surprised at how the flavors click together to make a quick supper that is light yet warming.
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*Note: Konbu is a type of dried kelp that comes in long packages; buy good-looking, thick, folded sheets.
**Note: Shichimi togarashi is used on nabe (1-pot dishes) or hearty soups. It is readily available at Asian markets. Buy one that is roughly ground and has visible colors (not pulverized into a homogenous powder). Store in the refrigerator and replace every few months.
Cut the ends off the onions, then again in half vertically. Set the onions, cut side down, on the chopping board, and slice crosswise into 1/8-inch-thick rounds. Pour the water into a medium-sized heavy pot or casserole and slip in the onions, konbu, ginger, and potatoes. Break the dried red peppers in half and drop in the pot with the other ingredients. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a rolling simmer, and cook until the potatoes are almost done.
In the meantime, snip the rubber band off the ito konnyaku and cut the ball of noodles in half. Drop in a small pot of boiling water and parboil for 5 minutes. Drain in a colander before sliding the noodles in with the simmering potatoes.
Stir the meat into the pot when the potatoes are starting to soften but the centers still have resistance when poked with a thin bamboo skewer. Cook until the meat has almost lost its pink before swirling in the sake and soy sauce. Continue simmering until the potato centers are soft.
Serve in small individual bowls with a bowl of rice on the side. Season with 7-spice powder, if using.