Ichiban Dashi

Dashi, the Japanese equivalent of the omnipresent Chicken Stock, is a really under-used cooking liquid. It's far easier and faster to make than Chicken Stock and more subtle in flavor. Use Dashi as you would any basic stock. Substitute it 1:1 for Chicken or Vegetable Stock, and choose flavors that won't overpower it. Dashi is somewhat subtle in taste, but what it lacks in assertive foreground flavor, it makes up in umami background flavor. It's best paired with vegetables and lean meats that will add to the complexity of the stock. Used in a soup, you'll never be able to pinpoint the use of Dashi or its constituent flavors, but you'll know it isn't Chicken Stock — and that's a good thing! In this recipe's title, Ichiban means "Number One."

You'll likely need to go to an Asian market to get the ingredients for Dashi, and you'll want to pay close attention. You'll see a couple different kinds of bonito flakes, but try to find those of the katsuobushi variety, as it's the best quality. I've included the Japanese characters (it may be spelled one of two ways) next to the ingredients so you can find exactly the right thing.

Yields about 8 cups.

Ingredients:

  • 40 grams kombu — 昆布 or こんぶ
  • 4 dried shiitake mushrooms — 椎茸 or しいたけ
  • 2000 milliliters water
  • 60 grams katsuobushi dried bonito flakes — 鰹節 or かつおぶし
  • Sieve and cheesecloth or towel

Instructions:

  1. Cut a couple of slits in the kombu if it's larger than four or five inches square.
  2. In a pot, cover the kombu and mushrooms with the water. Allow to soak from one hour to half a day to extract the most flavor from the kombu.
  3. Slowly heat over medium low heat, skimming the foam all the while. Do not allow the kombu to boil — once small bubbles start percolating around the edge of the pot, remove from heat and remove the kombu from the liquid, reserving half of the kombu; keep the shiitake in the liquid. Allow liquid to cool a little.
  4. Add the katsuobushi and bring to a boil over medium heat, skimming occasionally.
  5. Once the dashi has come to a low boil, reduce to low and simmer for thirty seconds. Then remove from heat. Allow the katsuobushi to sink, about ten minutes.
  6. Pour dashi through a cheesecloth- or towel-lined sieve. Twist the towel containing the katsuobushi and mushrooms to extract as much liquid as possible. Reserve the katsuobushi and mushrooms to make Furikake.

Adapted from Namiko Chen: Dashi