I first heard about Dashi, or sea stock, when I was still in high school. I remember being sort of puzzled that anyone would use a soup stock consisting solely of seaweed and dried fish and put the concept out of my mind until about 2 years ago.
What started as a simple desire to make some decent miso soup ended up making a serious change in how I cook and eat. As it turns out, dashi is one of the most versatile stocks I have run into and it is safe to say that we it use more than any other. It is quick and easy to prepare and has a really subtle, rich flavor that is a bit hard to pin down; it is not really fishy, not really salty, not really kelpy (if that is a word). It is packed with excellent flavor and enhances just about anything that you cook in it. I think of it less like a soup stock and more like a cooking fluid; used to get at flavor combinations that would otherwise be unavailable. I regret my long period of ignorance and really wish that I had gotten around to preparing this stock sooner in my life.
Dashi is prepared from three basic ingredients: water, kombu, and katsuobushi. Kombu is a type of flat, dried seaweed that is readily available in asian grocery stores. It is variably dark green to amber in color, sort of rubbery, and often has a fine white powder on its surface. There are typically many types available, but I am not a very refined consumer and simply get the one that is indicated for use in dashi. Katsuobushi is also readily available and is, essentially, dried bonito that has been shaved very finely. These ingredients both store well in the pantry, making preparation of this stock for general use really appealing. The image to the left shows two versions of these ingredients that are pretty typical.
The flavor of dashi comes from the fact that the ingredients you are using to prepare it are naturally high in glutamates. The point of making dashi is really just to extract these substances in a way that doesn’t create any strong off-flavors. Once you have your glutamates safely contained in your broth, you can do some real damage with them in the kitchen. I recommend This Article if you want to know more about the role that these substances play in the flavor of dishes.
The process of making dashi is really straight forward and, unlike making other stocks, dashi is quick. I typically have a jar in my refrigerator, but I cook with it a lot. If you just need it for an isolated dish or meal, making it fresh is simple enough that it shouldn’t interfere with the rest of your cooking. Although instant dashi granules are are available, I haven’t explored them enough to speak to their quality or variation.
For preparation, cut the kombu into manageable squares and soak for an hour or so in water (I place it in a 2 liter jar I have dedicated for this purpose). Once soaked, transfer the kombu and water to a saucepan, bring to just to the edge of boiling and simmer for about 10 to 12 minutes. After about 5 minutes or so, you will notice a clean, sea odor. When done simmering, remove the saucepan from heat, stir in the katusobushi and allow to steep for another 10 minutes. Don’t boil your katsuobushi, as it will become bitter pretty quickly. Strain into a glass container using a fine sieve and store in the refrigerator.
I have found that dashi begins to to degrade in quality within about 3 days. It should have a clean fresh odor and sweet or musty smells are a sign of spoilage and you should toss it. If you find that you are throwing out dashi on a regular basis, it is easy to scale back the amount you make. I have found a pretty sharp increase in how much we use in summer, when we are preparing a lot of simmered vegetable dishes. Enjoy, and hope this was helpful. Feel free to drop a comment if you have any input on the use of instant dashi granules or any brands that you prefer.
- 2 liters water
- 25 to 30 grams kombu
- 25 to 30 grams katsuobushi
- Soak kombu in water about 1 hour
- Transfer soaked kombu with water to a saucepan and bring to just short of a boil over medium-high heat
- Simmer for about 10 minutes, remove from heat
- Add katsuobushi and let stand for 10 minutes
- Strain stock and store
Katsuo-bushi is a dried and thinly shaved bonito. It is sold in bags at Japanese or Korean markets.