Dashi (出し) is the Japanese word meaning more or less “stock”. However dashi cannot be compared to the Western countries’ stock’s concept. Dashi is THE cornerstone of the Japanese cuisine. Without dashi cooking Japanese is not possible, “it is merely à la japonaise”, says Shizuo Tsuji. In his extraordinary “Japanese Cooking. A Simple Art“ the author very justly explains that using the instant dashi is understandable, but it is very important to understand how the traditonal dashi is made and how it tastes when prepared according to the state-of-the art rules. Thanks to Shizuko Tsuji I learnt the dashi recipe I had been preparing for years (as in the Simplified Miso Soup, using only katsuobushi, or shaved bonito fish flakes) was a shortcut used by many home and restaurant cooks. This popular method skips the first of the two stages, the one where konbu 昆布 seaweed plays the crucial role.
Konbu/Kombu 昆布 kelp, also called giant kelp (Saccharina/Laminaria japonica in Latin), is a kind of seaweed found at Japanese and Asian grocer’s and in health food shops. It is used in the stock preparation, the sushi rice preparation, in side dishes, cooked as a vegetable… The one used in stock is sold in dry, thick, almost black strips, it is also commonly consumed in Korea (다시마) and is quite popular in other East Asian countries. The earliest known written mention of the use of konbu in Japan dates back to the VIIIth century and gives an idea on how important konbu is in the Japanese cuisine. Click here to see different types of konbu. These are hidaka-konbu strips (also called mitsuishi-kombu) I used in my last dashi:
Following the steps in Shizuo Tsuji’s book, I prepared the Primary Dashi (Ichiban Dashi, 一番 出し) and realised the stage I had been missing for years is very short, very easy, but makes a huge difference in flavour and aroma. In fact, one can wonder how a piece of wrinkled seaweed and dried fish flakes can create something so extraordinary… Closing my eyes, inhaling the cooled dashi I found myself in my childhood years smelling the freshly caught, river fish… I closed my eyes once more and remembered the first time in my life I saw and smelled the fresh mediterranean sea breeze…
The explanations are long and detailed, but the process is very simple. Both ingredients used in primary dashi can be reused to make another stock! Click here to read the secondary dashi (niban dashi) recipe.
Preparation: 10-15 minutes
Ingredients (for 1/2 litre dashi):
1/2 litre cold water
15 g konbu strip(s)
15g dried bonito flakes (katsuobushi かつおぶし)
Put the konbu into the cold water in a pan (don’t wash it!). Hat uncovered for about 10 minutes and when it is just before the boiling point, remove the konbu.
If inserting your thumbnail into the konbu you feel the flesh is soft, it means the water has the sufficient flavour.
If it still remains tough, out back for 1-2 minutes into the water adding some more (2 tablespoons) cold water to stop it from boiling.
Remove the konbu.
Bring the stock to a boil.
Add 2 more tablespoons cold water and add immediately the bonito flakes.
Bring once more to a boil and quickly put aside.
Wait for the flakes to fall down to the bottom of the pan (it will take at most 1 minute).
Remove the foam and filter the stock through a sieve line with a piece of gauze.
Reserve both the konbu and the dried bonito flakes for the secondary dashi.