View Full Version : Dashi

J. A. Crippen
27th February 2002, 00:39
Dashi is the base broth used in many Japanese soups and sauces. It can be made from any number of ingredients but the primary two ingredients in a typical dashi recipe are konbu and katsuobushi. Konbu is a dried kelp, and katsuobushi is flakes of smoked and dried bonito fish.

It used to be that everyone made their own dashi from scratch in Japan. Nowadays it's much more convenient for most people to buy hondashi, a powdered substance containing bonito (katsuobushi) extract, salt, MSG, and preservatives.

Making dashi from scratch is not a time consuming process, and with the miracle of modern refrigeration large batches can be made and kept for weeks without spoilage. Also, homemade dashi tastes *much* better than the powdered stuff, and provides opportunities for creativity as to how it is prepared and what ingredients are used in it.

When making dashi by hand typically two batches are made, called ichiban and niban dashi. Niban dashi is made by recycling the ingredients used for ichiban dashi and cooking them for a longer period of time to extract the maximum amount of flavor from the ingredients. This is also a very frugal use of what can sometimes be expensive goods, particularly if in an area where Japanese cooking is not widely practiced.

I make dashi about once every week, depending on consumption. I end up with four quarts of the broth, two each of ichiban and niban dashi. My dashi recipe isn't an ancient handed down tradition, I just experimented with a basic recipe until I found something I liked. Below is the recipe and preparation instructions.

Ichiban dashi:
- 2 quarts water (preferably filtered)
- about 1 cup dried konbu, unwashed
- 1 cup tightly packed katsuobushi flakes
- 2 tbs sake or mirin
- 1 to 2 tbs tamari

Fill a 3 quart pot with the water. Add the konbu. Konbu comes in various ways, in precut squares of about 6x6 inches, in large leaves taken straight from the plant, and in rolled or folded up leaves. I like to cut the konbu up into small pieces of about 1 or two inches square to increase the amount of surface area exposed to the water.

Bring the water and konbu nearly to a boil over medium heat. It should take between 10 and 20 minutes for the water to boil. When it begins to boil remove the konbu from the water and save it in a bowl for making niban dashi. To remove the konbu I usually pour the pot of water through a strainer into another pot. Some people use a slotted spoon, or pick the leaves out with ryoribashi (cooking chopsticks).

Return the broth to medium heat and add the katsuobushi. Bring the broth to a boil. While the water is heating add the tamari and sake (you may also use mirin for a slightly sweeter flavor). The tamari doesn't do much to the flavor of the broth other than increase the saltiness slightly, but it does impart a pleasingly golden color.

Once the broth begins to boil remove it from the heat and strain out the katsuobushi. The katsuobushi flakes tend to fall apart into very tiny fragments that slip through most sieves and strainers. To combat this I line the strainer with a piece of white cotton cloth cut from an old T-shirt. Cheesecloth doesn't work well for this purpose because the gaps in its weave are too large.

Once the katsuobushi is removed leave the newly made ichiban dashi to cool and pour it into an airtight container (a large mason jar works well) and store it in the refrigerator.

Niban dashi:
- 2 quarts water (filtered)
- recycled konbu and katsuobushi
- 1/4 cup katsuobushi
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup dried wakame
- 2 tbs sake or mirin
- 1 to 2 tbs tamari

Pour the water in a 3 quart pot and use the water while pouring to wash the cloth used to strain the ichiban dashi. This will recover most of the katsuobushi from the cloth. If some is still stuck to the cloth wash the cloth in the pot of water until the cloth is fairly clean.

Add the konbu saved from the ichiban dashi, the 1/4 cup of unused katsuobushi, and the other ingredients. Bring to a gentle boil over medium to high heat and simmer for 10 to 30 minutes, depending on preference. The longer the niban dashi is cooked the stronger and cloudier it will become until the ingredients lose all of their flavor to the broth.

Once finished, strain the broth using a cloth as done previously with the ichiban dashi. Gather the loose ends of the cloth and squeeze as much more broth out of the bundle as you can. Discard the goop inside the cloth and wash the cloth with a very little soap, then rinse it well and save for future use. Put the niban dashi in an airtight container and refrigerate it.

You should clearly label the two different dashi. Ichiban dashi is a bit less strong and has a more delicate flavor than niban dashi. It is also clearer and more appealing to the eye. It can be used where a strong flavor is not desired, and on special occasions. Niban dashi is good for everyday miso soups, and for making tsukejiru (dipping sauce for noodles).

That's my basic dashi recipe. Does anyone have any others? I've heard of (but not tried) using shiitake or other mushrooms, other types of seaweed (eg, wakame), and various dried plants and herbs. One thing that I'd like to try is picking wild kelp grown here in Alaska, but that requires finding an area without watercraft nearby, and requires having a good (preferably not gasoline powered) boat.