Dashi is one of Japanese cuisine’s most important secret weapons. But what is dashi? It is a soup stock made of infusions of foods that are rich in umami, including bonito fish flakes, dried kombu kelp seaweed, dried shiitake mushrooms, and dried whole sardines.
Dashi makes up the liquid base in most savoury Japanese dishes, including miso soup, udon and ramen noodle dishes, and nabe stews. It is also used as a seasoning in dishes like tamagoyaki omelettes and seaweed salads. Dashi is what gives these dishes that unique, slightly seafood-like, umami flavour that is most readily associated with Japanese cuisine.
The use of dashi in Japanese cuisine can be traced back to the 8th Century, when simple soup broths would be made using raw or boiled bonito fish. As the years went on, different areas of the country experimented with other ingredients to work out which foods yielded the richest savoury flavour. Dried small fish, dried kombu kelp seaweed, and dried shiitake mushrooms were all experimented with before the fermented, dried, and shaved bonito fish flakes now most commonly used in dashi were discovered in the Edo period (17th Century).
Unlike soup stocks from other national cuisines, which are typically made by boiling an assortment of meat, vegetables and spices for several hours, Japanese dashi will normally contain only one or two ingredients, and preparing it should take no longer than half an hour. The almost minimalist approach that is taken with dashi preparation reflects the Zen aesthetic principle of kanso, or simplicity, on
which the Japanese place much importance.
Although preparing dashi from scratch is a shorter, simpler process than preparing other varieties of soup stock, it is nevertheless viewed as time-consuming and tiresome in Japanese households today. Nowadays most households keep this staple ingredient in the cupboard, in the form of dashi sauce or instant dashi granules (the most popular of which being Aji no Moto’s Hondashi and Shimaya’s Dashi no Moto). (Reference: JapanCentre)
HOW TO MAKE READ DASHI BROTH FROM JAPANCENTRE
INGREDIENTS: – Katsuobushi Bonito Flakes – Konbu Kelp – Water (Filtered water if possible)
METHOD: 1. Start by opening up your pack of konbu kelp and wiping it down with a damp cloth to remove any impurities from the surface.
2. Add a piece of konbu kelp approximately the size of a postcard with the water into a large pot and let it soak for about 20- 30 minutes in the cold water.
3. Turn on the heat and allow the water to boil slowly.
4. Just before the water boils, remove the heat and add your katsuobushi to the pan.
5. Without letting the water fully boil over, allow the katsuobushi to simmer in the water for 1 minute.
6. Remove the konbu and katsuobushi from the pan and strain through a fine sieve into a clean jug or pot.
That’s all there is too it. Unlike making soup stock in other cuisines, Japanese dashi stock is very quick and easy to make.