Welcome to my newest series, Washoku Wednesday. Earlier this year, UNESCO awarded intangible cultural heritage status to washoku, traditional Japanese cuisine. I love Japanese food. I love to eat it, cook it, eat it, learn about it, eat it …. you get the picture. 🙂 But I don’t feel I know as much as I should.
Enter Courtney, a fellow Japan resident and virtual acquaintance turned fast friend. Not only is she a passionate foodie like me, she actually knows what she’s doing in the kitchen with all these different ingredients! So I’ve invited her to take us on a bit of a washoku tutorial. Once a month, Courtney will feature a key ingredient in Japanese cuisine and give you tips on how to use it in your own cooking. She’ll share her own recipes and also give some additional links in case you just can’t get enough of that month’s ingredient. To find out what else she cooks up in her spare time, check out her personal blog.
If you visit Japan, you will hear lots of talk about the cuisine – things such as clean flavors, unique ingredients, healthy cuisine, and umami. The one word that was often mentioned as an afterthought when I was researching Japanese cuisine was dashi, yet it is an essential building block in many dishes.
Dashi is everywhere in Japanese cuisine yet most people don’t always recognize it on the first taste. It’s subtle and adds complexity to the dish without an in-your-face flavor burst. Dashi is a soup stock that is used not just in noodle dishes but to braise fish and vegetables, mixed into okonomiyaki, or to make salad dressings. It’s highly prized for its umami, the fifth savory taste that imparts depth and “meatiness” to the dish.
Dashi can be made of one ingredient, or many, steeped in water. The most common dashi is katsuobushi (bonito) and kombu (seaweed). Katsuobushi is skipjack tuna that is dried to approximately 20% of its original weight and becomes one of the hardest foods in the world. At this point, the fish block resembles wood that has to be thinly shaved before eating. The other key ingredient is kombu, a thick edible kelp. Japanese cuisine uses kombu in a variety of dishes. For many, making dashi is only the first step in utilizing the kombu. After dashi is fully steeped, and thus the kombu is softened, it is reused in another dish.
At home, dashi is fairly simple to make though modern conveniences have led to it being offered in ready-made bottles, just-add-water packets, or tea bags that only need to be steeped in hot water. The flavor is typically more intense for these quick versions than in the homemade variety.
You can easily make it at home and use it in a variety of recipes. I’ve begun playing around with it such as braising meats and vegetables in dashi, or substituting it for chicken stock in grain recipes. How do you use dashi in your everyday diet?
I use this recipe as guidance but feel free to adjust to suit your palate.
4 cups water
1-2 strips of kombu (seaweed)
1 cup katsuobushi flakes (bonito)
In a pot, bring the water and kombu almost to a boil on the stove. Turn off heat, add katsuobushi flakes and let steep for 5 minutes. Strain through a sieve and discard solids (or save kombu for another dish). Use immediately or store in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
*Note: You can reuse the kombu and katsuobushi for a second round of dashi. The second batch typically yields a light broth.
Here are some of my favorite recipes using dashi broth:
Kombu Dashi (vegetarian) from Just One Cookbook
Miso Soup from A Beautiful Mess
Japanese Cucumber Salad (I typically omit the crab) from Just One Cookbook
Hiyashi Somen from La Fuji Mama