Dashi – it’s the primary ingredient in so much of Japanese cuisine. The word alone means stock, but the most common version is made from water, kombu seaweed and katsuobushi or bonito flakes. Sonoko Sakai, who works under the umbrella organization Common Grains, has made it her mission to deepen Americans understanding of Japanese cuisine and culture. She shares her tips for making dashi and sourcing ingredients.
Where to source ingredients:
You can find kombu and katsuobushi (or bonito flakes) in all Japanese markets such as Nijiya, Marukai and Mitsuwa. You may also be able to find them at health food stores and Whole Foods, but the selection will not be as broad. Sakai also likes to add some dried shitake mushrooms to her dashi.
What to look for:
When shopping for katsuobushi, look for vibrant color and shiny long strips that resemble wood shavings, often they are sold in 80 to 100 gram packages. Some brands have more red meat while others contain more white meat; the red flesh gives you a smokier flavor and the white tends to be a little more delicate and floral. Most importantly, if the flakes looks flat, shriveled or yellow that means it’s old. You want the packages to be fluffy, like a pillow, to know that they haven’t been sitting on the shelf for too long.
When purchasing kombu, look for seaweed that has the white film on it. It’s not dirt or mold, it’s pure umami. Look for whole strips to cut yourself so that you can control the portions.
How do I make dashi?
Below is a recipe for a basic dashi that can be used for both primary and secondary dashi.
“The greatness about dashi is that there is nothing to be wasted,” says Sakai. “You can eat everything.” In the outtake below she describes the difference between the more fragrant primary dashi, which can be seasoned and sipped like a soup, and secondary dashi which is a milder form of the stock and often used as a base for miso soup. Once you have made your secondary dashi you can cut up the seaweed and add it to your salads or sprinkle it in your miso soup. To reuse the katsuobushi, pan fry the long strips in a dry pan until they are dry and flakey. Then you can crumble it over a steamed spinach salad or if you have pets, they will be happy to receive your leftovers.
For further instruction, Sakai is teaching a dashi class this March with “dashi maestra” Mamiko Niashiyama, an 8th generation katsuobushi, shitake and kombu wholesaler from Japan. Alain Ducasse just voted her one of his favorite artisan producers in the world. The class will be taught at the Japanese American National Museum on Saturday, March 22nd.
Miso Soup with Broccoli and Wakame Seaweed
4 cups Dashi (see BASIC DASHI recipe)
4 tablespoons of white or red miso paste or more to taste.
2 stalks of broccoli, stems cut into bite size pieces
2 Tbls wakame seaweed, hydrated and cut into bite size pieces
1 Tbls scallions, chopped (optional)
Bring the Dashi to a boil in a medium saucepan, then reduce the heat to maintain a simmer. Add the broccoli and cook for 2 minutes. Add the cut and hydrated wakame seaweed.
In a small bowl, dissolve 3 1/2 tablespoons of the miso paste in a few tablespoons of the warm Dashi. Add the miso mixture to the saucepan. Taste and add more miso paste, Dashi or water, depending on how strong the soup tastes. Turn off heat.
Pour the soup into individual bowls. Garnish with scallions, if you like.
Basic Dashi Recipe
Servings: Makes about 4 cups
Note: The primary dashi is used for clear soups and seasoning food. It’s enjoyed for its fragrance and clean flavor. The secondary dashi is made with used bonito flakes and konbu seaweed from the primary dashi. They are both multi-purpose dashi that is used for soups and seasoning foods, but the flavor is milder than the first one. The used konbu can be sliced and eaten straight or in soups and salads. The dashi will keep in the refrigerator for three days, or you can freeze it for a month.
1 piece dashi konbu seaweed, about 4 inches long)
4 cups loosely packed dried bonito flakes
4 1/2 cups water, divided
1. Lightly wipe the Konbu with a well-wrung wet dish towel but do not wipe away the white film on the konbu surface, because that’s were the flavors are hidden. Make several crosswise cuts in the konbu seaweed. This helps to extract the flavor during cooking.
2. Put the konbu and 4 cups of water in a medium. Place the pan over medium heat and cook until the water almost comes to a boil, then pluck out the konbu.
3. Reduce the heat to a simmer. Gently add the bonito flakes and cook for a couple of minutes. Turn off the heat. Strain them through a sieve lined with cheesecloth or paper towels. Don’t stir the stock because that will cloud the dashi. The Dashi should be aromatic and have a honey yellow color.
Note: To make the secondary dashi, put 4 ½ cups of water, the used konbu and bonito flakes in a medium pot and bring it to a boil. Turn heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes. Strain the konbu and bonito flakes through a sieve lined with cheesecloth or paper towels. The dashi should have a light honey yellow color.