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Take Stock: A Recipe For Classic Japanese Dashi

In this series, we explore the basic stocks that every great cuisine is built on. A delicate dashi is the cornerstone of Japanese cooking.
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Stocks are the basic building blocks in the culinary world and the secret to deep, richly-flavored sauces, soups and subsequently every other dish. In this series, we get celebrated chefs from different cuisines to share their recipes and tips for making great stock that you cook and keep in batches to give your home-cooking a major boost.

Made from just two ingredients and a pot of water, dashi is a deceptively simple stock that is the foundation of Japanese cuisine. Unlike French stocks which involve roasting and boiling bones for hours with aromatics and are laborious to prepare, making a dashi can only take you 10 minutes.

But ask any Japanese chef and they'll not be able to stress enough the importance of a good dashi to the cuisine, and the care that goes into making it daily, down to the softness of the water used. Chef Naokatsu Kanou serves up exquisite kaiseki and Edomae-style sushi at Shiraishi in Singapore’s Ritz-Carlton hotel and he says the art of making dashi was one of the very first things he learned about Japanese cooking: “It’s been almost 28 years since I cooked my first dashi. Many dishes need dashi in their preparation: miso soup, simmered vegetables, chawanmushi, tamago yaki (egg omelette)—even the sauce for tempura uses dashi.”

The basic Japanese dashi has a clear golden color and is big on smoky umami flavor, which comes mainly from the kelp, a rich source of glutamic acid. The other main ingredient is katsuobushi (shaved bonito flakes). “There are three different types of shaved fish flakes used to prepare dashi—bonito, which is Skipjack Tuna, tuna, and mackerel,” explains chef Kanou. “The best choice is still bonito, as it gives a better aroma and sweetness. Mackerel flakes are commonly used in preparing soba soup, because it is cheaper in cost.”

Japanese chefs take pride in their dashi and make a fresh batch daily, but you can keep your homemade dashi refrigerated for up to a week or frozen up to three months.

READ MORE: What is Kaiseki? 

Dashi Recipe

Courtesy of chef Naokatsu Kanou of Shiraishi, Singapore

Ingredients

2 liters water
120 to 150 grams katsuobushi (shaved bonito flakes)
80 to 100 grams konbu (kelp)

Method

1. Soak the kelp in water overnight.

2. The next morning, bring the kelp and water to boil and remove the kelp as the water starts to bubble. Do not boil it for too long or the dashi can turn slimy and bitter. The softened kelp can be cut up and reserved for miso soup.

3. Add the bonito flakes into the water and continue boiling for 5 to 10 minutes.

4. Strain the liquid, reserve and use the dashi in your cooking.

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