Dreams of Dashi
I dream of the perfect dashi. If one could make a perfect dashi, they would have mastered Japanese cuisine. Okay, maybe not the entirety but a pretty good chunk. Dashi is Japanese stock often made with kombu (kelp) and katsuobushi (smoked skipjack tuna shavings, though often called bonito flakes). There are many other versions using shiitake mushrooms, kombu alone, iriko (anchovy), etc. but the kelp and skipjack combo is by far the most common. It's the basis of all soups, braises, and my favorite, savory custards. This is the backbone of Japanese food.
What's frustrating is that everybody claims dashi is easy to make. And when you read the recipes, it really sounds like it. It requires 3 simple ingredients (albeit somewhat hard to find 2 of them in the US) and about 30 minutes of your time. This sounds so much easier than the French equivalent which requires massive amounts of mirepoix (chopped mix of onions, carrots, and celery), bones, and hours of your time. But the balance of each ingredient and the proper procedure, that's something up for debate. I've tried countless recipes from cookbooks and websites to master this simple broth. And I've finally found one to kick off my blog.
Now I mentioned before that depending on where you live, it could be a little difficult to find the two main ingredients other than water. If you're fortunate enough to live close to a Japanese or Chinese grocery store, you may be able to find some good brands and at cheaper prices. Also, katsuobushi is very delicate so it's better if you can inspect the bag yourself to make sure you have large shavings that haven't broken apart. Luckily, like all other things, Amazon comes to the rescue here and here. I'm not claiming that these are the best brands but they are the most widely available and affordable. If you ever get to go to Makurazaki in Japan where my grandparents used to live, you can actually buy the smoked and dried skipjack and shave it yourself on a slicer. My grandma used to shave bags and bags every time she made a trip out to the skipjack factory.
I'll probably never stop tweaking the recipe for the prefect dashi, but this one is pretty darn good. As you attempt to make some of my recipes, start with this and enjoy what you're able to cook in your own home. Dashi lasts a couple days in your fridge and a few months in the freezer but it's always best to make it fresh since it's a quick recipe.