The ABCs of DashiSupervision : Mamiko Nishiyama (Yagicho Honten)
Photography & Movie : Nahoko Morimoto
Text : Eri Ishida
Translation : Hidetaka Furuya (Northern Projects)
AWhat is dashi?
To Japanese natives, the thought of "dashi" eases the soul.
Or to put it more accurately, dashi is an elaborate soup stock made by simmering dried marine and agricultural products together to extract an umami flavor. These products include katsuo-bushi (dried bonito), kombu (dried kelp), shiitake mushrooms, and small dried sardines.
"Umami" is a savory flavor known as "the fifth taste".
If you cook with dashi that has been well made from quality ingredients, you can then ensure you complement the taste of other ingredients more effectively. You wouldn't have to use elaborate seasoning to get the right taste, and perhaps you would learn a fresh approach to cooking even more.
Examples of dashi-based Japanese cuisine include miso soup, soba noodles, ramen noodles, oden (various ingredients stewed in a soy soup), aemono (chopped fish, shell-fish and vegetables in dressing) and nimono (simmered vegetables and meat). There are many more dishes out there, but it's really up to you to decide how you want to use your dashi.
Discover the ABC of dashi introduced here, and trust your own instincts when incorporating dashi into your dishes.
BMaking delicious dashi
depends on how you choose your ingredients
When extracting dashi, there are no strict rules. So what's the most important thing to keep in mind to make really tasty dashi? The simple answer is to source top quality ingredients.
Having good ingredients means that you are much more likely to make quality dashi. It means you can afford to make a few mistakes along the way, and also experiment with how you make your dashi.
We'd like to introduce to you how you can choose the best of ingredients.
CLet's make dashi!
There are six basic tools to make dashi:
- 1Katsuo-bushi kezuriki (Dried bonito shaver)
- This tool is used to shave katsuo-bushi (dried bonito).
It plays a similar role to a grinder in making coffee.
If you use fresh katsuo-bushi, the dashi you extract will have a particularly nice flavor. However, you can still extract good dashi even if you use ready-prepared katsuo-bushi from a packet, and then you won't need this tool.
- 2Nabe (Pot)
- Choose a pot big enough
to hold the amount of dashi you want to make.
- 3Nabefuta (Pot lid)
- Use a lid after putting dashi ingredients in the pot
to make sure they steam. The picture above shows a wooden pot lid, but stainless steel or glass lids
are also perfectly fine.
- 4Sarashi & Zaru (Unbleached cloth & bamboo sieve)
- Line your sieve with a cheesecloth cloth and use this to strain out your extracted dashi. It's better to use a sieve made out of bamboo rather than out of stainless steel.
- Use a bowl to store your filtered dashi.
- When making good dashi, soft water works better than hard water.
- Water can be divided into hard water and soft water, depending on the amount of minerals it contains. Hard water has high mineral content, whereas soft water has low mineral content.
It is said that using soft water makes really delicious dashi because the ingredients dissolve more effectively. Water is soft throughout Japan, but it's softer in the Kansai region than it is in the Kanto region. In Europe and some parts of the United Sates (California and Texas), you get hard water.
If you are wondering why you can't extract good dashi even when you use quality ingredients, why not change the type of water you use? You can get especially good dashi out of kombu with soft water.
"Ichiban-dashi" is a dashi broth made by simmering katsuo-bushi and kombu together. When you combine these ingredients rather than just use them individually, the soup stock develops a much richer flavor. Ichiban-dashi is said to be the tastiest variety of dashi ("Ichiban" means "first".) Japanese people have traditionally enjoyed ichiban-dashi for many centuries. Fresh ichiban-dashi is very clear and pure, so it is essential to traditional Japanese multi-course formal cuisine (which requires clear dashi). It's also important in making clear broth soup. However, ichiban-dashi can be used in any kind of dish.
1 liter of water
10cm square of kombu. This can be cut a bit smaller if you are using very thick kombu.
30g of katsuo-bushi. However, if you are making fresh katsuo-bushi with a dried bonito shaver, 15g is appropriate.
How to make quality ichiban-dashi at home
- Put the kombu in 1 liter of water overnight (About 10-12 hours, and no longer.
The flavor might become too harsh otherwise.)
- Shave your katsuo-bushi. You can skip this process if you are using ready-prepared katsuo-bushi.
- Put your step 1 ingredients into a pot, and then heat at a medium temperature.
- Start simmering the pot at a low temperature, just before the water begins to boil. Then take the kombu out.
- Keep simmering the pot at a low temperature, ensuring the water does not boil. Add the shaved katsuo-bushi from step 2, and place the lid on the pot so that the aroma is saved. Let it simmer for two minutes and turn off the heat.
- Leave the pot for two minutes and wait for the katsuo-bushi to sink to the bottom.
- Line the sieve with a cheesecloth cloth and gently filter out the extracted dashi. No need to press out whatever is behind left on the cloth as this will bring out a harsh taste. Instead, tap the edge of the sieve to ensure that every drop of the remaining dashi filters through.
After extracting your ichiban-dashi, the leftover ingredients can be reused to get "niban-dashi" ("Niban" means "second".) Put them all back into the pot and boil to extract niban-dashi. This is a stock that contains miscellaneous flavors. It's suitable for miso soup, nimono, and other home-cooked dishes.
0.5 liters of water
All the ingredients left behind from extracting ichiban-dashi
10g of katsuo-bushi. If you are using fresh katsuo-bushi, 5g is fine.
How to make quality niban-dashi at home
- Put all the leftovers (the katsuo-bushi and kombu) and water into a pot. Heat at a high temperature.
- After the water starts boiling, reduce the heat to a low temperature.
Add the new katsuo-bushi. Place a lid on top and simmer for ten minutes.
- Turn off the heat and wait for two minutes. Line the sieve with a cheesecloth cloth to filter out the extracted dashi (the niban-dashi).
Use a ladle to press out what's left on the cloth and filter through all the remaining dashi.