Saturday, June 12, 2010


Bunburyist? What on earth do you mean by a Bunburyist? You shall see in due time, but today a few words about dashi. Dashi is a Japanese stock well worth learning how to make for many reasons. First, it is delicious: warm, often smoky, mellow, elegant and fragrant with a “refreshing aftertaste that calms the heart.” Second, it is quick and extremely easy to make. Finally, it is versatile. With fresh or frozen dashi available in your freezer, you can quickly prepare a wide range of soulful meals.

There are many different types of dashi, but we shall focus on a core recipe with only three ingredients: water, dried bonito flakes (katsuobushi) and kelp seaweed (kombu). 

If the idea of making something so remarkable from three ingredients excites you, then I recommend Dashi and Umami – The Heart of Japanese Cuisine. This book, published by Cross Media Ltd., explores dashi and its ingredients with zeal and deference.

  • 3 liters (plus 100 milliliters) soft water
  • 20 grams kombu
  • 80 grams dried bonito flakes
Place the kombu in a pot with 3 liters of soft water. Checking with a thermometer, heat the water to approximately 65˚C. At this temperature small bubbles are forming in the pan. Remove the kelp, turn-off the heat, and pour in 100 milliliters of water. This last step keeps the water from exceeding 60 -70˚C, which is the ideal temperature range for adding the bonito flakes. With the heat off, add 80 grams of dried bonito flakes. The flakes will quickly absorb liquid. Immediately strain the dashi through cheesecloth.

The resulting stock is called ichiban dashi or primary stock. You can stop at this point or use the kelp and bonito flakes again to make a secondary stock called niban dashi. Lighter in color and flavor, niban dashi is also delicious and easy to make. Place the left over kelp and bonito flakes (removed from the cheesecloth) into a clean pan. Add 1.5 liters of soft water and bring to a boil. Simmer for 10 minutes. Turn-off heat and strain the stock through cheesecloth.

You can store dashi in a refrigerator for 2 days. I typically put aside 4 or so cups for immediate use and freeze the rest in 2 to 4 cup portions. Dashi will keep frozen for 3 months.

You can use dashi in any number of different soups, stews and sauces. Most often I use dashi in a dish that somewhat resembles a category of Japanese dishes called nabe or hot pots. The dish is so simple that calling it a hot pot makes it out to be more than it really is: rice served in dashi with vegetables and meat (or tofu). Like most wonderful meals, it is all about the ingredients. I usually work around the vegetables, in this case fresh Tokyo Cross turnips from my garden. I use both the tops and roots that I cook separately in butter with just a little dashi, salt and pepper.

Adding other ingredients to your hot pot is a matter of personal preference. Slices of cooked chicken or roasted pork work well. In this case I made pork dumplings with ginger, scallions, chives, breadcrumbs, mirin, sake and soy sauce. I quickly browned the dumplings, which are about the size of a large walnut, in an iron skillet. I added approximately 4 cups of dashi, sea salt to taste and braised the dumplings for about 20 minutes. I often add other ingredients to the dashi at this point, such as a little soy, mirin, sake and/or miso.

To serve, place cooked rice in a bowl, top with your prepared ingredients, and pour in ¾ to 1 cup dashi.

Much of the fun of having this simple meal is enjoying it with sake. Very cold beer is an agreeable alternative beverage.