NHK WORLD > JAPANESE FOOD > Special Features > The ABCs of Japanese Cooking #8 Dashi

The ABCs of Japanese Cooking
#8 Dashi

September 11, 2017

Hi, everyone! Welcome back!

Today I'd like to focus on dashi, the all-important stock that forms the basis of Japanese cuisine. Dashi enhances the flavor and aroma of any dish, bringing out the intrinsic flavors of fresh, seasonal ingredients. The key to serving delicious Japanese food lies in the dashi!

All about dashi

The best-known types of Japanese dashi are made from katsuobushi (skipjack shavings) and konbu kelp. Did you notice I said Japanese dashi? That’s because dashi, or stock, is important in cuisines around the world. There’s more to the difference than just the name, though! Western soup stocks are made from ingredients like chicken bones, white fish and vegetables, which are simmered for hours on end to extract every last drop of flavor. The famous French stock “fond de veau” is a “fond,” or foundation stock, made from veal meat and bones, which makes it even more time-consuming to create than a basic soup stock. Chinese soup stocks are called “tang” and are made from ingredients ranging from pork and chicken with ginger and leeks to dried shrimp or dried scallops. These, once again, are simmered endlessly.

Therein lies the biggest difference with Japanese dashi! Only a brief simmering is required to produce a stock that is light in body but rich in umami, enhancing the taste of ingredients without overpowering them.

Types of dashi

Katsuo and konbu are not the only types of dashi featured in Japanese cuisine. Niboshi and shiitake are also quite common. Learn how to make these four basic types of dashi and understand their differences in flavor and aroma. That way you’ll be able to have more fun in the kitchen, using just one dashi type or blending different types to create a combination of umami that enhances the flavor of whatever it is you’re cooking!

[Katsuo dashi]

Characteristics:
Full of the rich umami flavor and aroma of katsuobushi. It's a highly versatile dashi that goes well with practically everything. Because it's so rich, other ingredients don't overpower its flavor.

Ingredients:
Katsuobushi. Made by smoking, fermenting and drying boiled or steamed skipjack tuna.

[Konbu dashi]

Characteristics:
Subtle and delicate in terms of both flavor and aroma. Enhances the natural flavor and aroma of the ingredients.

Ingredients:
Konbu kelp harvested from the mineral-rich ocean, then sun-dried. Thick, blackish-brown pieces are ideal and will produce a good dashi.

[Niboshi dashi]

Characteristics:
A savory dashi with a distinctively fishy aroma and flavor. Rich but slightly bitter in taste.

Ingredients:
Small fish, usually Japanese anchovies, boiled and sun-dried.

[Shiitake dashi]

Characteristics:
A distinctive earthy and meaty aroma. Made simply by soaking dried shiitake mushrooms in water. A versatile vegetarian/vegan dashi.

Ingredients:
Sun-dried fresh shiitake mushrooms.

From Madam Akiko's Book of Trivia
Did you notice that most of the ingredients used in making Japanese dashi are dried? Drying concentrates the already rich umami of each ingredient, which is why dashi is extra full of umami flavor!

How to make dashi

Now that we've covered the basics, let's get cooking!

【Katsuo dashi】

Ingredients (makes approx. 600 ml)
9 g (a little over 200 ml) skipjack shavings
650 ml water

Directions

1. Bring the water to a boil. Add the skipjack shavings and stir quickly. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for about two minutes.

2. Line a strainer with paper towels. Pour the dashi over, strain and squeeze out thoroughly.

【Konbu dashi】

Ingredients (makes approx. 600 ml)
6 g (9 cm square pieces) konbu kelp
600 ml water

Directions

1. Put the water and konbu into a pot and let soak for about half an hour.

2. Place the pot over low heat. Remove the konbu just before the water starts to boil.

Note: Make sure to remove the konbu before boiling to prevent the dashi from becoming slimy and bitter.

【Niboshi dashi】

Ingredients (makes approx. 600 ml)
15 g niboshi
750 ml water

Directions

1. Decapitate and split the niboshi in half, remove the dark intestines.

2. Pour the water into a pot and soak the niboshi for 15 minutes.

3. Place the pot over low heat and bring to a gentle boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 8 minutes, occasionally removing the surface scum. Strain.

Note: Removing the heads and intestines prevents the dashi from becoming bitter.

【Shiitake dashi】

Ingredients (makes approx. 600 ml)
3 dried shiitake mushrooms
600 ml water

Directions

1. Lightly rinse the shiitake and soak in water for 1-2 hours.

2. Remove the shiitake and strain the liquid by pouring through a strainer lined with paper towels.

From Madam Akiko's Book of Trivia
Dashi made from scratch will keep in the fridge for 2-3 days if stored in an airtight container. The flavor weakens over time, so it's best to use it as quickly as possible.

Cooking with dashi

The first thing I want you to try making is miso soup. The taste depends so much on the type of dashi you use. Here are some guidelines for ingredients that go well with each type of dashi.
Katsuo dashi: It’s a really versatile dashi. You might like to try it with just one ingredient, such as wakame seaweed or leafy greens, to best savor its rich and delicious flavor.
Konbu dashi: The subtle and refined flavor goes well with shellfish such as asari clams, shijimi clams and scallops. The strong umami flavor of katsuo dashi clashes with shellfish, which is why it’s best to use konbu dashi here.
Niboshi dashi: Goes well with mild-flavored vegetables. Potatoes and onions, abura-age and Japanese leeks are among the favorite combinations.
Shiitake dashi: Goes especially well with tofu and mild-flavored vegetables like taro, Chinese cabbage, Japanese leeks and daikon radish.

Mini Quiz

After a good meal, there's nothing like a good nap. But not until you answer my quiz!

Quiz

When making konbu dashi, make sure to remove the konbu just before the water comes to a boil.
True or false?

The answer is: True!
Boiling will release the distinctive slime and bitterness of konbu.

See also
#1 Soy sauce, a must-have seasoning for cooking Japanese
#2 Mirin, sake and miso: essential seasonings for cooking Japanese
#3 Utensils 1: knives and cutting boards
#4 Utensils 2: Basic cutting techniques
#5 Otoshibuta drop lid
#6 Chopsticks
#7 Chopsticks Part Two
#9 How to cook rice without a rice cooker

Special Features