The distinct flavour that bursts forth through all the Japanese cuisines has a secret ingredient behind which makes it so unique. Yes, we’re talking about Dashi – the foundation of Japanese dishes which is extensively used in most soups and noodles.
Dashi is an extremely simple broth and can be made in just about 10 minutes with three ingredients on hand: water, kombu (dried kelp), and bonito fish flakes. The resulting clear broth intensifies the flavour to make the food taste pleasant. It adds the umami flavour which is known as the fifth taste- describing the savouriness of the meaty and mouthful sensation of this taste.
It is said that Dr. Kikunae Ikeda, a professor at the Tokyo Imperial University in 1908, was curious about the taste of dashi and found it hard to describe the same. He found that kombu had a high glutamic index which made food delicious. Thus he called the taste “umami” and the name stuck and became the “fifth taste”.
Kombu is a type of seaweed (kelp) that is sundried, beaten and cut into sheets. The sheet has powdery crystals which have glutamic acid, once it dissolves in water they give dashi the taste of umami. Kombu must be used in small quantities while making the dashi, as over-boiling it can make it bitter and alter the taste of the dish.
Bonito flakes are also known as Katsuobushi, the Japanese name for dried, fermented, and smoked skipjack tuna(bonito fish) which are thinly shaved to make Dashi. If you are a vegetarian you can skip the bonito flakes.
Step 1: Bring water to a slightly warm temperature and add the Kombu. Remove it soon as the water comes to a boil (this is done to avoid making it bitter).
Step 2: Add the bonito flakes and simmer for a minute or two. Turn off the stove and let the flakes remain in water for about five minutes.
Step 3: Strain the bonito flakes using a muslin cloth or a strainer to get a clear broth of dashi.
Dashi can be stored in the refrigerator for 3-4 days and can be used to make a whole lot of Japanese dishes including miso ramen, but it is most commonly used in making miso soup, to which the dashi adds a unique flavour. Dashi ingredients can be found in most Asian grocery stores. You will also get instant dashi packets which are quick and easy to use.
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