Q. I am interested in cooking Japanese food and would like to make my own dashi. Can I do this? Where can I find the ingredients?
Dashi is a simple stock fundamental to traditional Japanese cuisine. It can be made in many ways and with many ingredients, similar to French stocks. Common ingredients are kombu, shiitake mushrooms and katsuobushi, flakes of dried, fermented skipjack or bonita tuna.
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All these ingredients are rich in free glutamates. These are chemicals that stimulate umami – the so-called “fifth taste” (the other four are salty, sour, bitter and sweet) – and contribute to the savory nature of many Japanese dishes.
Most commonly, dashi is made from a powdered base. You can find it in any Asian market and some supermarkets. For a more authentic – and tastier – version, you can make your own. It's easier, less expensive and less time-consuming than French stocks.
Soak a few sheets of kombu in about 2 quarts of water for a half hour. Bring the water to a slow simmer – about 180 degrees – and remove and set aside the kombu. Add a cup of katsuobushi, or bonita flakes, and remove from heat. Skim any foam that comes to the surface. Let the liquid sit until the bonita flakes settle, and strain through a cheesecloth, saving the flakes.
This liquid is ichiban-dashi (first dashi) and is used to make soups and sauces.
Add the bonita flakes to the reserved kombu, and cover it with a quart of water. Bring the mixture to a boil, and add another 1/2 cup of katsuobushi. Skim any foam that rises, turn off the heat, let the flakes settle and strain that mixture. This second dashi can be used as a court-bouillon, or poaching liquid.
Kombu and katsuobushi are available at Overseas Food Market, 4603 South Blvd., and Oriental Foods, 4816 Central Ave., but almost any Asian market will have them. Look for katsuobushi (it may be labeled bonita flakes), not powdered bonita – the flavor is much better.