What is dashi, and why is it so important in Japanese cuisine?
Dashi is an umami-packed flavor bomb that elevates many Japanese dishes. There is no one dashi. Although many chefs in Japan may claim to have the best recipe, at its most basic, dashi is simple stock made with a combination of dried fish (katsuobushi), seaweed (kombu) and/or shitake mushrooms. The stock extracts the umami flavor from these ingredients by pulling out different acids – glutamic acid from seaweed, inosinic acid from dried fish and guanylic acid from mushrooms.
Dashi broth is used in a wide variety of Japanese recipes, imparting a deep, umami flavor that first Japanese consumers, and now people all over the world, crave. Most commonly, you’ll find dashi in noodle sauces, soups and broths, but it is an incredibly versatile ingredient that gives any dish a savory kick. Some recipes even omit animal-based ingredients to create a vegan-friendly alternative.
Store-bought dashi: Does it stack up against the real thing?
Store-bought dashi comes in many forms. You can find it as a paste, as a powder, or as a prepared stock. While some brands are outstanding, and will undoubtedly impart your Japanese dishes with a powerful savory bite, nothing compares to the real deal made at home.
The top chefs in Japan herald their dashi recipes supreme, but you don’t need to be a professional to give the broth a go. Follow the simple steps below, and you’ll be able to easily enjoy fresh dashi in your own kitchen.
Simple steps to the perfect dashi
Despite packing a powerful flavor punch, dashi’s ingredients and cooking methods are relatively straightforward. You might need clarification on the names for different variations of dashi that include added ingredients, like katsuo or niboshi, but when you make up your mind try your own, we recommend keeping it simple.
Stick with the main two, kombu and katsuobushi. The other key ingredient is water. The better the water, the purer your dashi stock will be, so aim to use spring water or filtered water. Make sure your kombu is thinly sliced, to boost surface area and extract maximum flavor. Cover the kombu in water first before bringing it to a boil and adding the katsuobushi. Once strained, you’ll have the ideal dashi.
Take your time: The best recipes can’t be rushed
There is one more critical factor when making dashi: timing. This essential element deserves an explanation of its own. At each step in the dashi-making process, you must give yourself time to extract the flavor of the individual components. Most importantly, leave the kombu to soak, preferably overnight.
When adding the katsuobushi, don’t pour everything in at once. Gently stir in the fish flakes with chopsticks, imparting their flavor delicately through the stock. Once your dashi has boiled, leave it to stand. The longer you leave it before sieving it, the more intense and delicious the flavor will be. Since dashi can produce a lot of umami with little seasoning, make sure to taste it first, and then adjust by adding salt or miso accordingly.