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Dashi: The essence of Japanese cuisine

July 4, 2016

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Niboshi dashi, the fully fishy dashi

Important fishing grounds for the ingredients used in dashi are concentrated in the coastal waters of Kyushu and Shikoku, which is why the use of niboshi dashi remains popular in these regions.

Introduced as an inexpensive alternative to bonito flakes in the 18th century, niboshi spread from western Japan to the rest of the country in the Meiji era. Rich in calcium, iron, vitamin D and of course protein, niboshi are also a great source of inosinic acid, which is associated with umami. In fact, niboshi have twice as much inosinic acid as bonito flakes.

Like other types of dashi, niboshi dashi is easy to make. To avoid any bitterness in the dashi, pluck off the heads and remove the guts of the fish. Steep the fish in water for several minutes, then simmer over low heat for 15 minutes while skimming off the surface scum, and drain. That's it. The result is a bold dashi bursting with umami: perfect for red miso soup, hot pots (nabemono), and noodle dishes featuring strong flavors, such as udon and ramen.

Even this quick and easy process has come to be seen as too much bother in recent decades, resulting in reduced consumption of niboshi. But if you plan ahead, there's a much easier way to make niboshi dashi that does away with the need to remove the heads and guts and involves no heating. Simply soak them in water overnight! The result may not be as rich as the dashi made using the traditional method, but it has a light and refined taste that enhances the flavor of the ingredients it graces.

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