Dashi (page 65) is essential for Japanese cooking. It is usually a clear, non-oily fish stock used for soups, simmered dishes, salad dressings, and marinades. Dashi provides the subtle umami that is the foundation of this cuisine. Dashi can be based on kelp (kombu), dried bonito (katsuobushi), dried baby sardines (niboshi), dried shiitake mushrooms, or a combination of two or three of the ingredients.
I have a package of instant hon dashi in my cupboard for days I’m just too busy, but it is not something I use often. Once you’ve tasted homemade fresh dashi, you’ll not be satisfied with chemical laden commercially processed powders and liquid concentrates! In an hour, you can make a gallon of stock and there’s no greasy burned stuff to wash off the pots. And it freezes wonderfully.
What to have ready for making dashi:
- measuring cup for water
- measuring cup for katsouobushi
- deep strainer and fukin (cotton kitchen cloth, or triple layer of cheese cloth. Wet the cloth and squeeze out the water so it’s damp.)
- 2 pots large enough for the amount of stock
- freezer containers, mostly 1 quart size, but it’s useful to freeze some in 1 and 2 cup sizes and even cubes
Kombu Dashi (Vegetarian Stock)
4 to 6-inch square of kombu
2 quarts water
Kombu (kelp) is dark green, almost black. Do not wipe the white dust off! Do not overcook the kombu (or the katsuobushi) or your stock will be cloudy and bitter. Put the kelp into a pot and add the cold water. Bring the water and kombu almost to a boil over medium heat. It should take 10 to 15 minutes.
- This tip is not in my book, but I’ve found it works well if I remember early in the day: soak the kombu in cool water for between 30 minutes to 3 hours. The water takes on a green color and the kelp softens and expands. The flavor of the fish stock is great when you start like this!
Immediately before the water reaches a boil, remove the kombu, and either discard it or save it for preparing “second fish stock.” At this point, you can use this as a vegetarian stock. If you are making fish-stock, continue reading.
Ichiban Dashi (First Fish Stock)
- Kombu Dashi, still on heat
- 1 cup packed katsuobushi (bonito fish flakes)
Immediately after removing the kelp, add the katsuobushi all at once. Wait 10 seconds (until the water comes back to a boil—my stove doesn’t have a lot of guts so it takes more like 20 seconds). Turn the heat off, skim foam, and let it steep for 2 minutes. Strain the stock through your sieve lined with the fukin. Don’t squeeze. Discard the bonito flakes, or use them to make Second Fish Stock. Pour the stock into your freezer containers. Rinse the first pot and proceed.
Nibon Dashi (Second Fish Stock)
- Kombu saved from above
- katsuobushi saved from above
- 2 quarts water
Combine the above ingredients. Rinse the cloth if not all the fish flakes came off, then put it in the strainer over the second pot. Bring the mixture to a gentle simmer and cook over low heat for 10 minutes. Strain. Discard the kombu and fish flakes.
Sometimes, I’ve saved the kombu in the freezer for making pickles.
These stocks will keep tightly covered in the fridge for 4 days. Or freeze.