Primary Dashi, or Japanese Stock (Ichiban Dashi, 一番 出し)

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.


8 thoughts on “Primary Dashi, or Japanese Stock (Ichiban Dashi, 一番 出し)

  1. Clarkie @ Beloved Green

    I always learn so much from your blog. I have only eaten kelp once, and it was in a “candied” form. My friend brought it back from Japan and she said they were a seaweed with a sweat coating on the outside. Definitely different from our processed candies in the US.

    1. sissi Post author

      I am very flattered, thank you! I also learn a lot from you (the pastry bag and cup tip is priceless!) and I have just learnt, thanks to you, that candied kelp exists! I have never heard about it. Must see if I can find it in my Japanese shop. It seems like the Japanese cuisine is an endless world of discoveries, the more I learn about it, the more I have the impression to ignore it.

  2. Ange

    Hi. I am unable to find kelp at my local grocer and am unable to go to Chicago to find it. I have found dried bonito flakes though.. will it affect the flavor severly if I can only use this?

    1. Sissi Post author

      Ange, thank you for your visit! Some Japanese make stock only with bonito flakes, check this post http://www.withaglass.com/?p=1907, there is a simplified Japanese stock recipe with bonito flakes only (without kelp), dried seaweed acts only as a miso soup ingredient, not the stock basis. The stock made with bonito only is also very good! Good luck!

  3. Ange

    Thanks for the clarification. I am glad I can make stock for say onokonomiyaki and it come out with traditional flavor. Do you know if restraunts use kelp for their miso? The only seaweed I can find here is wakame or nori, would wakame substitute well for my miso to still have traditional taste?

    1. Sissi Post author

      Ange, I have never made dashi with wakame or nori, but I think they have a completely different aroma. Kemp has for ma a kind of ocean-like smell, while wakame is more “fishy” and I have no idea how cooked nori behaves. I would stick to the dried bonito stock if I were you. It is very good too!
      There are several types of Japanese basic stock: kelp+bonito flakes, kelp only and dried fish stock. (Maybe there are some more kinds, but I haven’t heard about them; there are also pork bones stocks, but these are used for ramen, e.i. noodle soups). I suppose good restaurants always put kelp with bonito flakes, but maybe they prefer bonito only sometimes?
      When one day you really want to try with kelp, try buying it on internet or maybe go to a Japanese restaurant? I remember I once couldn’t find a Chinese product and they sold me some in a Chinese restaurant.

    1. Sissi Post author

      I hope they will be nice and help you (sometimes they don’t want to bother I suppose…).

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