Dashi is Japanese stock—the basic stock that provides the underlying flavor for most Japanese dishes. It is made from dried bonito fish flakes and kombu seaweed and has a very distinctive and lovely smell of the sea.
In the old days, everyone always made their dashi from scratch. The best dashi is still homemade, but nowadays most Japanese housewives rely on instant dashi. There are several excellent instant dashi powders available, which have a very authentic flavor. Simply mix with enough water to make a delicately flavored stock. Ask for dashi-no-moto or hon-dashi in Japanese grocery stores and some supermarkets. (Note for the health-conscious: check the list of ingredients before you buy instant dashi; some brands contain monosodium glutamate.)
If you are planning to make only one or two Japanese dishes, it is more convenient to use instant dashi. But if you are planning a whole Japanese meal, it is sensible to begin by making a large batch of fresh dashi. There are two grades, Dashi I and Dashi II. Dashi II is by far the more useful for general purposes—simmering, sauces, thick soups, etc. Dashi I is much lighter and more delicate in flavor, and is used for making the beautiful clear soups that begin a classic meal.
If you don't have the ingredients for dashi at hand, don't despair. A very light chicken or vegetable stock will do well as a substitute. The dish may not be totally authentic, but it will still taste good. But to experience the true Japanese flavor, you will have to use real dashi. Unless Dashi I is specified in the recipe, use either instant dashi or Dashi II.
Makes 5 cups
l piece (4-6 inches) dried kombu, wiped
2-3 packets (0.175 ounce each) dried bonito flakes
Put 5 cups cold water into a large saucepan, add the kombu and heat slowly, skimming off any scum that forms on the surface. Just before the water boils, remove the kombu. Raise the heat and just as the water starts to boil again, throw in the bonito flakes. Bring to a full boil, then immediately remove the pan from the heat and allow the flakes to settle. Strain gently through muslin (do not squeeze).
Makes about 5 cups
1 piece (4-6 inches) dried kombu, wiped
3-5 (packets) (0.175 ounce each) dried bonito flakes
Put the kombu into 7-1/2 cups cold water and bring to a simmer (do not boil kombu as this makes it bitter). Skim off any scum that forms. Add 2 or 3 packets of the bonito flakes and simmer uncovered for about 20 minutes, until the stock is well reduced. Toss in another 1 or 2 packets of bonito and immediately remove from the heat. Allow the flakes to settle, then strain.
Alternatively, reserve the kombu and bonito flakes used in Dashi I and simmer them in 3 quarts water for 20 minutes; finally add 1 or 2 packets of bonito flakes, strain and use.
Dashi I should always be freshly made, but Dashi II can be stored in a sealed bottle in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or can be frozen; however, flavor and aroma will be lost.
At the Japanese Table:
New and Traditional Recipes
By Lesley Downer
Chronicle Books, September 2001
Paperback, 224 pages, $16.95
Recipe reprinted by permission.
This page created October 2001
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