Beef and asparagus rolls are known as, aspara nikumaki, in Japanese. Aspara means asparagus; niku means beef and maki means roll or wrap. In this dish, thinly sliced beef is marinated in a sweet and savory soy glaze, then wrapped around blanched asparagus spears and then pan-cooked.
Combine marinade ingredients (soy sauce, sake, mirin, and sugar) in a medium bowl and stir until mixed. Add thinly sliced beef and marinate in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, trim bottom of asparagus, then slice asparagus spears vertically in half or quarters, depending on the thickness of the spear. Blanch asparagus in boiling water for 2 minutes. Remove from pot and rinse with cold water. Set aside.
Take 2 to 3 pieces of beef and gently spread it out on a plate or cutting board. Lay 2 or 3 asparagus pieces across one edge of the sliced beef. Gently roll up the asparagus in the beef, tucking the end under the bottom of the roll. Repeat until all the beef and asparagus have been used to make several rolls.
In a large pan, heat canola oil over medium heat. Add beef and asparagus rolls to the pan and sear the beef until all sides are lightly and evenly browned. Add any remaining marinade to the pan and simmer the beef and asparagus rolls together for 1 to 2 minutes.
Slice each beef and asparagus roll into thirds or fourths, plate, then serve with Japanese hot mustard (karashi). The rolls can also be served as is, without any hot mustard.
In Japanese cuisine, there are several varieties of meat and vegetable rolls, and recipes are not limited to beef and can be substituted with thinly sliced pork.
Very thinly sliced beef and pork are widely available at Japanese markets and other Asian markets. In Japanese markets, the thinnest type of meat is often labeled as “shabu-shabu,” which is reflective of the thin meat that is used in Japanese shabu-shabu style dishes. A slightly thicker, yet still thinly sliced cut of beef is referred to as “sukiyaki”, which is used in the traditional Japanese sukiyaki hot pot. Where Japanese or Asian supermarkets are not available, shaved cuts of beef or pork can be found at Western supermarkets, or requested at the butcher.
For this recipe, either shaved beef, shabu-shabu or sukiyaki-style beef may be used. It is easier to work with the sukiyaki-style beef, as it does not tear as easily as the shabu-shabu style beef when wrapping the meat and vegetable rolls. I prefer the thinner shabu-shabu cut of beef for a thinner and more delicate roll, however, for a slightly heartier version I recommend using sukiyaki-style beef.
The flavor profile of the soy sauce glaze for this beef and asparagus roll is reminiscent of teriyaki sauce, but the sweetness can be easily adjusted to your preference by adding less or more sugar.
Aspara nikumaki (beef and asparagus rolls) can be served uncut, as the main course for lunch or dinner. After the rolls are cooked, they can also be cut into thirds and served as an appetizer or in a bento lunch. This dish also works well as finger food for potlucks and is kid-friendly.