Dashi is a simple broth that is a very important component to a lot of Japanese foods. The Japanese use dashi as a base for miso soups, noodle soups and as a liquid in many simmering braises.
We’ve been living in Kuching for a little over 3 months now. We’re settling in all right, getting to know the place and people. But we haven’t had a big party of guests over to our house yet, like we used to do almost weekly back in San Jose. We really wanted to invite our friend Paul (who welcomed us on our first day to Kuching) and his family over for a meal.
Annie mulled over the different menu options and eventually decided on a Japanese menu. Of course, there would have to be miso soup. She also wanted to do niku-jaga (meat and potatoes) dish. Both dishes call for dashi as part or most of the ingredients list.
The base of making dashi is the use of kombu/konbu (a dried piece of kelp seaweed) which is placed in cold water then heated to almost a boil. The other ingredient is katsuobushi (bonito flakes) which is added after taking the kombu out. These days, you can get handy instant dashis that you just add to water. But there is nothing like making your own dashi from scratch. And they are not very hard to make at all.
Smells Like the Sea
On its own, dashi is not very strongly flavored but it has a very nice “sea” aroma. And when used to make miso soup (miso is really salty already), it adds that briny sea flavor to the soup. My Japanese friend tells me that the flavors are different based on the kind of kombu you use. I had some miso soup at her home where she had used some very good quality kombu and the miso soup was excellent.
I got this dashi recipe from The Japanese Kitchen by Hiroko Shimbo. I love this cookbook quite a bit. Shimbo has done a great job in presenting Japanese food to a novice and her book shows her evident love for the details of cooking Japanese. Sometimes, she does get a little bit too complicated for me and I do simplify when I think it’s necessary but her detailed instructions and steps are what makes this book a lovely instructional on traditions of Japanese food and cooking.
Try out this dashi recipe if you’ve never made your own from scratch. The ingredients can easily be found in Asian grocery stores (Japanese and Korean stores will have more choices of kombu and bonito flakes but in a pinch, the other Asian groceries will also carry at least one of each of the above items).
adapted from The Japanese Kitchen by Hiroko Shimbo
3-4 pieces of dried kombu, about 6 inches in length each (seaweed)
a large handful of bonito flakes (around 1 cup pressed down)
2 quarts water (about 8 cups)
1. Wipe kombu with damp cloth (do not rinse kombu). Place kombu into pot with cold water.
2.Heat pot over medium heat and wait till it’s almost boiling. Do not let it come to a boil. Once you start seeing some bubbles, remove kombu.
3. Reserve kombu for second dashi. Add bonito flakes now to the broth. Heat for roughly two minutes. Turn off the heat and wait for bonito flakes to sink to the bottom.
Adding Bonito Flakes to Dashi
4. Pour broth through a sieve and reserve bonito flakes for second dashi.
1. Take another 2 quarts of water and put kombu and bonito from first dashi into pot of water. Heat until almost boiling and then simmer for 15 minutes or a bit more. Remove kombu and bonito and reserve stock.
Note: Use first dashi when you want clear dashi flavors like miso soup, or dishes that are lighter and where the dashi carries the dish.
Use second dashi for stronger flavored dishes like those that contain meat where the dashi is not the main player in the dish.
You can also make it vegetarian by not adding the katsuobushi. Instead, add dried shiitakes (rehydrated first) to the stock and you will have a mushroomy flavored dashi. We’ve also tried adding ginger to our dashi for a little extra heat. Play around with your dashi—if you want a more fishy flavor, try adding some dried anchovies. The added ingredients do change the character of the dashi so be mindful of that when you are thinking of adding different flavors.
Once you have your dashi, there are plenty of ways to use them. Look out for our coming posts on Miso soup and Niku-jaga (braised beef and potatoes) that utilize dashi.