Sunday, March 13, 2011

Dashi (出汁, だし) (Thinking of Japan)

 "Dashi provides Japanese cuisine with its characteristic flavor, and it can be said without exaggeration that the success or failure (or mediocrity) of a dish is ultimately determined by the flavor and quality of the dashi that seasons it.  Many substitutes for dashi are possible, but without dashi, dishes are merely a la japonaise and lack the authentic flavor. Dashi stock, soy sauce, fermented bean paste (miso), and sake are the 'big four' of Japanese cooking.  One or more of these four substances is used in nearly every Japanese dish."   

Shizuo Tsuji,  Japanese Cooking -- A Simple Art.  Tokyo, Kodansha International, 1980.


Primary Dashi (Ichiban Dashi)

Because it has a lovely fragrance, fresh primary dashi is best for clear soups.  A Japanese clear soup should be thin enough to allow one to clearly perceive the flavors of the other ingredients present. Its bouquet disappears quickly and is lost if the dashi is not used immediately. For use as a basic seasoning, however, primary (and secondary -- see second recipe below) dashi made well ahead of time is perfectly fine.  Leftover dashi may be stored in a sealed bottle in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or may be frozen, but flavor and aroma are lost.

Makes 1 quart (1 L):
serves 6 as base for clear soup

1 quart cold water
1 ounce (30 g) giant kelp (konbu)
1 ounce (30 g) dried bonito flakes (hana-katsuo)

To prepare:  Fill a medium-size soup pot with 1 quart (1L) cold water and put in the kelp.  Heat, uncovered, so as to reach the boiling point in about 10 minutes.  IMPORTANT:  Kelp omits a strong odor if it is boiled, so remove konbu just before water boils.

        Insert your thumbnail into the fleshiest part of the kelp.  If it is soft, sufficient flavor has been obtained. If tough, return it to the pot for 1 or 2 minutes.  Keep from boiling by adding approximately 1/4 cup cold water.

        After removing the konbu, bring the stock to a full boil.  Add 1/4 cup cold water to bring the temperature down quickly and immediately add the bonito flakes.  No need to stir.  Bring to a full boil and remove from the heat at once.  If bonito flakes boil more than a few seconds, the stock becomes too strong, a bit bitter and is not suitable for use in clear soups. If you make this mistake, all is not lost, use the stock as a base for thick soups, in simmered foods, and so on. 

        Allow the flakes to settle to the bottom of the pot (30 seconds to 1 minute).  Remove foam, then filter through a cheesecloth-lined sieve. Reserve the bonito flakes and kelp for secondary dashi



Secondary Dashi (Niban Dashi)

While primary dashi is best suited for clear soups by virtue of its fragrance, subtle taste and clarity, secondary dashi does noble service as a base seasoning -- for thick soups, for noodle broths, as a cooking stock for vegetables, and in many other ways.  

Makes 3-4 cups

Bonito flakes and giant kelp reserved from primary dashi
1 1/2 quarts (1 1/2 L) cold water
1/3 - 1/2 ounce (10-15 g) dried bonito flakes (hana-katsuo)

To prepare:  Place the bonito flakes and giant kelp reserved from the primary dashi in 1 1/2 quarts (1 1/2 L) cold water in a medium-sized soup pot.  Place over high heat just until the boiling point, then reduce heat and keep at a gentle simmer until the stock is reduced by 1/3 to 1/2, depending on the flavor desired. This reduction takes about 15-20 minutes.

         Add the fresh hana-katsuo and immediately remove from heat.  Allow the flakes to start to settle to the bottom of the pot (30 seconds to 1 minute) and remove foam from the surface.  Filter liquid through a cheesecloth-lined sieve. 

        Discard the hana-katsuo flakes and konbu.

Reader Note

Like most people, I think, I find myself speechless about what is occurring in  Japan

But silence can be a natural and appropriate reaction to an ongoing serious event where the facts are still being discovered. 

I contrast this with everything else I have heard since the earthquake from various "important people" with megaphones and megaphone bearers in the media.  So much posturing and "positioning" blather creating  disturbing mental images of men and women posing for equestrian statues while attending a family member's funeral.

Like you, probably, I've been trying to cope and coping is mysterious.  One prays, ponders and imagines.  I try to put myself in the shoes of a Japanese person wanting to feel safe and secure. This somehow causes me to think about making dashi.


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