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Dashi – it’s the primary ingredient in so much of Japanese cuisine. The word alone means stock, but the most common version is made from water, kombu seaweed and katsuobushi or bonito flakes. Sonoko Sakai, who works under the umbrella organization Common Grains, has made it her mission to deepen Americans understanding of Japanese cuisine and culture. She shares her tips for making dashi and sourcing ingredients.

Where to source ingredients:

You can find kombu and katsuobushi (or bonito flakes) in all Japanese markets such as Nijiya, Marukai and Mitsuwa. You may also be able to find them at health food stores and Whole Foods, but the selection will not be as broad. Sakai also likes to add some dried shitake mushrooms to her dashi.

What to look for:

When shopping for katsuobushi, look for vibrant color and shiny long strips that resemble wood shavings, often they are sold in 80 to 100 gram packages. Some brands have more red meat while others contain more white meat; the red flesh gives you a smokier flavor and the white tends to be a little more delicate and  floral. Most importantly, if the flakes looks flat, shriveled or yellow that means it’s old. You want the packages to be fluffy, like a pillow, to know that they haven’t been sitting on the shelf for too long.

When purchasing kombu, look for seaweed that has the white film on it. It’s not dirt or mold, it’s pure umami. Look for whole strips to cut yourself so that you can control the portions.

How do I make dashi?

Below is a recipe for a basic dashi that can be used for both primary and secondary dashi.

“The greatness about dashi is that there is nothing to be wasted,” says Sakai. “You can eat everything.” In the outtake below she describes the difference between the more fragrant primary dashi, which can be seasoned and sipped like a soup, and secondary dashi which is a milder form of the stock and often used as a base for miso soup. Once you have made your secondary dashi you can cut up the seaweed and add it to your salads or sprinkle it in your miso soup. To reuse the katsuobushi, pan fry the long strips in a dry pan until they are dry and flakey. Then you can crumble it over a steamed spinach salad or if you have pets, they will be happy to receive your leftovers.

For further instruction, Sakai is teaching a dashi class this March with “dashi maestra” Mamiko Niashiyama, an 8th generation katsuobushi, shitake and kombu wholesaler from Japan. Alain Ducasse just voted her one of his favorite artisan producers in the world. The class will be taught at the Japanese American National Museum on Saturday, March 22nd.

 

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