Thursday, January 28, 2010


"Making good dashi" says Shizou Tsuji "is the first secret of the simple art of Japanese cooking." In flipping through Japanese Cooking, most of the recipes call for dashi. Dashi is to Tsuji and Japanese Cooking what butter is to Paula Dean. Essential and ubiquitous.

It is only made of three ingredients. Water, konbu, and bonito. How simple is that? Wait... konbu... bonito. What's that!?!

Fortunately, Tsuji is thorough. He has included a section at in the beginning of Part One called Ingredients. I've found this section to be extremely useful and could be a booklet unto itself. It describes ingredients which are common in Japanese cooking but uncommon in
western kitchens. It actually explains the difference between Tamari and Soy Sauce and indicates reasonable substitutes for hard to find ingredients. It turns out that konbu is giant kelp and bonito is a dried, smoked fish. Fortunately for me, these are sold dried and
packaged at the local Asian market, especially since I'm in Denver with no ocean in sight!

The procedure is also simple. Boil water, add kelp, remove kelp, add bonito, remove bonito. To get this right, it is important to check the flavor of the soup, the texture of the kelp, and to remove foam at the right time. It does take a bit of time.

Tsuji says in the preface to the "Basic Stock" chapter, that you can substitute other stocks, like chicken stock, but this will merely be a la Japonaise, rather than authentic. He also says that dashi-no-moto, or instant dashi, is widely available.

I am going to make an attempt to make dashi from scratch one of these days. I did, however, elect to buy dashi-no-moto from the Asian market. In the preface to the book, Tsuji says that these were pretty good substitutes for homemade dashi. I am not sure if Tsuji would
approve of my choice. I do have both konbu and bonito available to me, but dashi is a bit time consuming. So for now, dashi-no-moto it is.

The first batch that I made turned out well. I was surprised that the flavor was so familiar. It tasted like most of the clear soups I've had in sushi bars. It was just fishy enough to make my cat go bonkers while I was making it. I can see why this is so widely used in Japanese cooking.

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