Dashi – Everyday Japanese

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Dashi is the basis for so many Japanese dishes that it’s a must know for anyone aspiring to capture an authentic taste. In it’s basic form, it’s a stock that marries two key elements: Konbu (dried kelp) and Katsuobushi (shaved bonito). However, it can be modified to yield a more complex base for cooking depending on substitutions or additions–including a koni (crab) or vegetarian option. It serves as a base for most miso soup and a wide variety of sauces. My basic Dashi (the one given below) involves the addition of dried anchovies, but the addition of brined crab pieces seriously elevates the stock and if available is what I use in dishes such as Shabu Shabu (Japanese Fondue).

Anchovie Dashi

  • 4 to 6 c Cold water
  • 1 to 2 square inches of dried konbu sheet per cup of water
  • 2 to 3 Dried “dashi anchovies” per cup of water
  • A handful of katsuobushi flakes (shaved bonito), more or less to taste

Add the cold water to a non reactive pot and add the konbu.
Place pot over a medium high element and slowly bring to a simmer.
Remove the kelp from the water before boiling and add the Anchovies and Katsuobushi.
**Do not boil the Konbu–it will make the resulting stock bitter**
Cook on a low boil for a few minutes.
Remove from heat and strain the mixture through a fine sieve into a heat proof bowl.
Let cool or use while hot
Keep the remaining dashi in a sealed container in the refrigerator for a up to a week.

Notes: This recipe is what the Japanese call ichi dashi or first dashi. If you come across a recipe calling for ni dashi simply repeat the above process using new water and the removed/strained ingredients from the first batch. Ni dashi is used in some dishes where a lighter flavour is required. Depending on the strength of the ichi dashi, I will sometimes make a ni dashi as the basis for the traditional miso soup, but for the most part I rarely take this step.

As you can see from the above the ingredient list, this is very much a “make it to taste” recipe. Drop the anchovies if you’re going for a lighter less fishy version; add more katsuobushi if you want a heavier smoked flavour; wipe the konbu with a damp paper towel to remove the crusted salt if you want a less salty version; add the above mentioned brined crab (only a small piece is required) to turn it into something extravagant… It really is a very flexible base and easily adapted to your needs. Always make a little more than required–it is called for in so many Japanese dishes and can even find it’s way into some Western recipes.

…Or you could just skip all the above and buy the little msg laden packets from the Japanese or Korean grocer. Your choice.

Aaron