Dashi is a Japanese broth made with konbu, which is dried kelp, and katsuo-bushi, the flakes of dried fish (bonito). The broth is light, yet deeply flavorful, giving the essence of the sea to anything you add it to. It imparts an immediate Japanese flavor to any dish, yet it isn’t “fishy”. I like to add it to Asian soups and sauces, as it is a quick and easy way to get a flavorful liquid without resorting to complicated preparations or packaged meat broths.
Dashi is incredibly convenient. The ingredients can live in your cupboard for ages and it only takes about 15 minutes to make, “mostly unattended” as the cookbooks say. You only need to know how to boil water for this one.
The only difficult thing about dashi is sourcing the fish flakes. I can’t get them at my local Asian store, so I’ve been purchasing them online. The konbu (dried kelp) is usually available in any Asian store, but can also be sourced online.
How I do it:
For two quarts of dashi you’ll need a piece of konbu a few inches long and a generous handful of bonito flakes (see the image above, you don’t need to be exact here).
Put the piece of konbu in a pot of cold water and bring the water to almost boiling. (You don’t want the water to boil while the piece of konbu is in there, as it quickly takes on a strange, bitter taste.)
Fish the konbu out with a fork or chopsticks and let the water come to a boil.
Put the bonito flakes in a sieve and lower it into the water. Let it boil for a second or so, then take the pot off of the heat.
Swirl the flakes around in the sieve for a second, then lift them out and squeeze.
If you really want perfectly clear dashi you can strain it through a paper towel or cheesecloth, but for the purpose of family dinner what you’ve got will work wonderfully. If you want stronger, fishier dashi, let the bonito flakes boil for a few more seconds, or add more of them.
Dashi freezes really well and can be stored in the fridge for a few days with no problem. Having a stock of frozen dashi is great on hot summer days when you want a cold noodle soup. You can freeze the dashi in an ice-cube tray and add the cubes directly to your noodles to cool them down in a flavorful way.