Have you ever considered making your own Japanese stock (dashi)? If you like miso soup, you should try doing it at least once. Then you will realise it’s a piece of cake in comparison with, say, chicken stock, not to mention the difference in taste with the powdered form. All you need (for the most popular dashi type) is dried konbu/kombu seaweed (昆布) and dried bonito flakes, both easily available at Japanese groceries or by internet. You can keep your stock several days in the fridge, you can of course freeze it, use also in Western dishes… the only problem you might encounter is throwing away the beautifully scented kombu strip, which obviously still has a culinary potential.
After different unsuccessful attempts, like shredding it and putting into Japanese stews, I finally discovered tsukudani, a delicious rice topping which gives a perfect second life to kombu. In fact, I love it so much, I no longer see leftover kombu as a problem, but as a great chance to prepare this addictive, crunchy, umami-flavoured alternative to the boring soy sauce.
Tsukudani 佃煮 is an old method of preserving, coming from the years when fridges were unheard of. Its main ingredient can be seaweed, meat or seafood. The products are simmered in soy sauce and mirin (sometimes with additional seasoning), until the mixture thickens. Thanks to the high concentration such a preparation keeps for longer. I prefer to keep it in the fridge because it tastes better when cold, but it will keep at room temperature too.
(My recipe is loosely adapted from ingredients’ list I have read on the package of a commercial tsukudani (I don’t even remember the brand…) and then adapted the amounts to my taste.)
TIPS: If you prepare dashi for the first time, don’t wash dry konbu before using it in dashi or in anything else! You will wash away lots of its flavour (and maybe some health benefits too…). Of course, rinse the cooked kombu before making tsukudani.
Apart from being an excellent rice topping, this tsukudani is delicious on fried or poached egg and also fresh cheese/quark toast… but possibilities are endless
Preparation: about 15 minutes
Ingredients (the below amounts should be treated only as a hint and adapted to everyone’s taste):
(approximately) 7 cm (about 3 in) piece of leftover konbu (still moist and fresh from the previous preparation)
4 tablespoons low sodium Japanese soy sauce (or 2 tablespoons of normal Japanese soy sauce)
1 tablespoon mirin (sweet cooking sake)
1 tablespoon sake
1 teaspoon toasted white sesame seeds
3-4 tablespoons dried bonito flakes (katsuobushi); I prefer here the small pieces
Rinse the konbu piece and chop it into tiny cubes or threads.
Place the kombu into a small pan, add the soy sauce, the mirin, the sake and the sesame seeds.
Let it all simmer at low heat until it thickens and becomes glossy.
Take off the heat, add the dried bonito flakes and stir well.
Keep in a closed jar in the fridge; it will last at least a month.
Serve as rice topping/seasoning.