When was the last time you’ve tasted a dish that had all the distinctive flavors and it instantly became your favorite meal?
A few moments in your life you say? I know exactly what you mean!
In this article, we’re going to talk about the Dashi stock (broth) that brings out the best in almost every meal you mix it with.
In this post we'll cover:
- 1 What is Dashi?
- 2 Why is Dashi So Important?
- 3 Great Dashi Recipes to Try at Home
- 4 Agedashi tofu recipe
- 5 Simmer down!
- 6 At the heart of Japanese cuisine
What is Dashi?
Dashi (出汁 in Kanji and だし Katakana) is a class of soup and cooking stock used in Japanese cuisines.
Dashi is the foundation of miso soup, for clear broth, noodle broth and various kinds of stews that help enhance umami.
Umami is one of the five basic tastes that our taste receptors resonate with instantly.
This makes Dashi a very rare discovery that is also a key component for many kinds of recipes.
Dashi is also important in creating the batter (flour-based paste) of grilled foods such as takoyaki and okonomiyaki.
Dashi also has other names like sea stock or vegetable stock and is actually an all-purpose vegetable-fish broth.
It is the kombu (sea kelp) that is the primary ingredient for Dashi, which has been dried and cut into thin long sheets and is what causes the umami flavors of the miso soup to concentrate.
In order to further enhance the Dashi stock smoky katsuobushi, shavings of dried, smoked, and sometimes fermented skipjack tuna or bonito is added.
Dried mushrooms and sometimes even dried sardines are added to the stock as well which really elevates the Dashi stock to new heights!
If you want to learn more about Japanese cuisine, check out my extensive list of the best cookbooks available
Why is Dashi So Important?
Dashi is the embodiment of umami, the fifth taste (after sweet, sour, salty, and bitter) that was identified in 1908 by the Japanese chemist Kikunae Ikeda.
Well-known Japanese chef Kiyomi Mikuni spoke about Dashi in a talk show that the Japan Society was hosting a while back
He said that the authentic Dashi made by using kombu with katsuobushi does not only contain the glutamic acid for the umami isolated by Ikeda, but also the inosinates that come from the katsuobushi.
Mikuni pointed out the new research that shows glutamates and inosinates interact in a much deeper and intricate level than just being additives in the Dashi stock.
Thus exhibiting 8 more flavors when used in a mixture than by themselves separately.
Another chemical compound that has a similar multiplicative effect on taste when eaten with the Dashi stock is called guanylates, and this is found in shiitakes and kinoko mushrooms, that are also often used in making dashi.
Because of this, Dashi can be considered as an all-purpose flavor enhancer like we’ve talked about earlier and is essential in a wide variety of Japanese savory dishes that you can find in a lot of their recipes.
However, chefs and cooks treat the katsuobushi and kombu differently when they prepare meals, so the taste of the Dashi may vary from recipe to recipe as well.
Great Dashi Recipes to Try at Home
Agedashi tofu recipe
- 14 ounces of regular tofu (or Japanese "momen" tofu)
- 1 cup dashi stock
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- 2 tbsp mirin
- ½ cup cornstarch
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil for frying
- 1 inch piece of daikon grated
- 1 scallion chopped
- katsuobushi bonito flakes for garnish (optional)
- shichimi (Japanese chili flakes) for garnish (optional)
- After soaking the tofu with water for 5-10 minutes, drain the water over the sink, Cut it into 6-8 pieces of cubes and transfer to a clean plate, then microwave it for 3 minutes on high settings.
- Remove the tofu from the microwave oven and place it in another clean plate once again, then let it dehydrate.
- Place a small saucepan on the stove and pour in the Dashi stock, mirin and soy sauce, then turn on the stove to medium heat until the sauce mix gets warm enough. Now turn off the stove and cover the saucepan with a lid.
- Pour cooking oil in a nonstick frying pan and fill it at about 1/4 to 1/2 of an inch and set the heat to 171.11 – 176.67 °Celsius. Put in the tofu slowly and deep fry them for about 5 minutes or until they become golden brown in color.
- Once done then transfer the tofu to a clean plate lined with paper towels to drain the oil off of the tofu. Garnish the tofu with chopped scallion and grated daikon, then pour some sauce on the top to finish.
- Garnish with bonito flakes and Japanese chile flakes, if desired.
Also read this post on making the Dashi from scratch if you’re into that (and some easy dashi and vegan dashi substitutes to try)
Chawanmushi (Japanese Egg Custard)
- 1 cup of warm water
- 3/4 teaspoons hon-dashi, or dry Dashi powder
- 4 small dried shiitake mushrooms
- 1/4 cup hot water
- 1/2 teaspoon soy sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon mirin
- 4 medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 4 thin slices of kamaboko
- 4 mitsuba leaf stems
- 2 eggs
- Pour 1 cup of warm water and the Dashi powder into a large mixing bowl and mix thoroughly.
- Next step is to soak the shitake mushrooms in a 1/4 cup of hot water in a small bowl and wait for the mushrooms to soften (this may take a few minutes).
- Cut the mushrooms into thin slices and save the 1/4 cup of hot water that you soaked the mushrooms with for later use.
- This time pour the mushroom soaked water into the Dashi stock; add the mirin and soy sauce and then mix them thoroughly.
- Blanch the shrimp in hot water for 30 seconds and then divide them evenly into 2 teacups (or ramekins of about 230 ml each).
- Divide up the mitsuba, kamaboko, and mushrooms even as well, then save a very thin slice of each of the kamaboko (about 1/8th of an inch thick) and allow it to float on the top of the dish to add color to the cuisine.
- Crack the eggs in a separate mixing bowl and whisk them until they become frothy. Pour in the Dashi as well and mix them thoroughly, then pour it over a strainer and put the resulting liquid into the individual teacup leaving a space about half-an-inch at the top.
- Season it with what’s left of the kamaboko (optional).
- Get a large metal pot and pour water into it until it fills the pot with 2 inches of water from the bottom. Turn on the stove and heat up the water until it reaches its boiling point, then place the teacups/ramekins in the pot, but make sure that the water is at least an inch lower than the rims of your ramekins so that it won’t sip through and contaminate the ingredients.
- Place an aluminum cover over each ramekin so that steam won’t also get into the cup. Reduce the temperature to medium-low, cover the pot with a lid, and then steam the ingredients for about 10 – 15 minutes, or until it becomes tender or cooked.
- To test, stick a chopstick or toothpick through; if the liquid is clear, it’s ready to eat.
I’ve tested out a lot of cooking utensils for Japanese cooking over the years, and I’ve collected these top utensils here in this post. You should check it out as well.
Pork Belly Udon Soup
- 2 spring onions
- 200 g pork belly
- 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 2 cm piece ginger, grated125 ml (1/2 cup) soy sauce
- 125 ml (1/2 cup) mirin
- 60 ml (1/4 cup) sake
- 1 tbsp caster sugar
- 8 cm piece kombu
- 1 liter (4 cups) water
- 3 cups bonito flakes (katsuobushi)
- 200 g packet good-quality dried udon noodles
- 1 egg, at room temperature
- 1 quantity Dashi stock (see above)
- 2 tbsp soy
- 2 tbsp mirin
- 2 tsp caster sugar
- 1 & 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 dash sake
- 1 bunch bok choy or pak choy, chopped into 5 cm pieces
- 1 handful bean sprouts, top and tailed
- 1 sheet toasted nori, cut into 4 squares
- 2 spring onions
- Chop off both of the ends of the spring onions (about 10cm in length), then cut them into an allumette, set them in a pan and add cold water to it. Reserve for later use (garnish).
- Chop what’s left of the spring onions into thin rounded slices.
- Put the saucepan on top of the stove, fill it with water and out the pork belly in. Turn on the heat and set to high, then bring to a boil. Simmer for 10 minutes.
- Remove the scum that floats on the water surface with a skimmer. Turn off the stove and remove the pork belly. Rinse with running water and then use paper towels to pat them dry.
- Replace the water in the saucepan with a clean one and boil the pork belly in it once more for another 30 minutes. Remove and rinse the pork once more and then pat dry with paper towels again as you did before. This time cut the pork belly into thick slices.
- Rinse the saucepan and make it ready for another round of cooking. Pour the sake, mirin and the soy sauce into the saucepan, then toss the spring onion, ginger and garlic as well.
- This time add the pork into the saucepan along with the other ingredients and simmer it until much of the liquid has evaporated leaving only a sticky sauce that makes the pork cuts look glossy. Turn off the stove and set the pork mix aside for later use.
- Now for making dashi stock. First, wipe down the kombu with a wet towel, then make a few slices along the length of the kombu at around 2 to 3 cm intervals).
- Get a new clean saucepan, pour water in it and place the kombu in the water, then bring to boil. After 2-3 minutes turn off the stove and remove the kombu and place it in a clean plate.
- Boil the bonito flakes in water too! Do this for about 30 seconds, turn off the stove and then wait for the bonito flakes to sink to the bottom of the pot (This should take about 10 minutes).
- Get a fine sieve strain (you may want to place paper towels over it to filter the liquid further) and pour the liquid from the bonito flakes that you’ve boiled earlier, then extract all the liquid.
- Boil the udon noodles for about 8-10 minutes until it becomes firm to the bite. Drain the hot water and rinse the noodles in cold running water.
- Divide the udon equally between 2 large serving bowls.
- Boil some water in a small pot. Use an egg piercer or a small pin to pierce the base of the egg and place it in the water. Stir regularly and cook for 6 and 1/2 minutes.
- Turn off the stove and remove the egg from the pot, then place it in a small bowl filled with cold water. Peel off the shell and then cut the egg in half, then set aside for later use.
- This time boil the Dashi stock in a large saucepan, reduce heat to simmer and add the mirin, soy sauce, sugar, sake, and salt.
- Stir the mix and sample the broth if it has the right taste (add a few more ingredients for seasoning if necessary). Simmer for a few more minutes in low heat.
- Next is to add the bok choy to the Dashi mix and simmer them for an additional 5 minutes.
- Pour the Dashi broth in each bowl of udon noodles. Decorate the udon with the sliced half boiled eggs, add some bean sprouts, spring onion allumette, and nori on the top, then serve.
Though it may seem similar to ramen, udon is a very different kind of noodle-based dish. The noodles are generally thicker and different ingredients are used when making it. One of the few ways that the two dishes are similar is that they both use dashi as the stock. After all, since dashi works well in ramen and miso soup it makes sense that it would go great in a bowl of udon.
I’ve got this post on how to use Udon noodles and make A LOT of delicious noodle dishes.
The first and most obvious use for dashi stock is to use it to make miso soup. There aren’t many ingredients in miso soup, but the dashi stock is one of the most important ones to include. Even if you left out the dashi but included the miso paste, your miso soup would not have the incredibly rich umami that dashi stock gives it.
If you like a good miso soup but don’t have the time, here’s a great miso breakfast recipe you can make in minutes
Yes, there are a lot of ramen recipes out there that make use of dashi. Like miso soup, ramen benefits from using dashi stock to make an incredibly delicious and savory soup. This does, however, exclude most conventional instant ramens that you would find in a grocery store since those are just dehydrated ramen noodles that require hot water and nothing else.
There are actually a lot of different ramen broth types you could try, you should read it if you have the time.
Moving on from soup, another example of something you can make with dashi stock is nikujaga. Nikujaga is a type of beef stew that is the Japanese equivalent of a beef and potato type of stew. Other vegetables can be added in as well. Then all the ingredients are cooked in delicious dashi stock.
Dashi stock and sauce
Dashi stock is often used in a lot of sauces. For example, one of the main ingredients in making the sauce for okonomiyaki is dashi. Since dashi is known for being very savory, it makes sense to use it in any sauce that would pair well with a savory dish. It is practically a match made in heaven when used for a sauce!
Though it isn’t technically a recipe, a common technique in Japanese cooking is to simmer vegetables and fish when you are cooking them. Cooking food in dashi is a great way to infuse your dish with the savory and delicious umami that dashi is known for. This also includes cooking a block of tofu in dashi.
Speaking of tofu, there is another use for dashi when it comes to cooking a filet of tofu. With this recipe, you can make a delicious dashi gravy that you pour after a fried block of tofu. With the warm dashi poured over the tofu, each bite will melt in your mouth into a puddle of savory and delicious flavors.
Bowl meals are a popular dish in Japan, and this is another kind of meal that can be made by using dashi stock. For oyakodon (delicious recipe here!), you take a bunch of ingredients like chicken, scallion, and other vegetables and simmer them in dashi stock. The dashi coated ingredients are then poured over a bowl of rice and then served.
Like the agedashi tofu, this is an incredibly unique way to use the dashi stock in a way other than making a soup.
Another popular type of meal that uses dashi stock, especially during the colder months in Japan, is chicken mizutaki and other similar hot pot recipes. Hot pot recipes are unique because they are usually cooked in a large standing pot right on the dining table itself. You take a bunch of ingredients and cook them in dashi stock.
In the case of chicken mizutaki, you cook chicken, tofu, Chinese cabbage, mushrooms, and leek in several cups of dashi stock. Though these dashi stock-based hot pot recipes can be enjoyed on your own, it is often the kind of thing you would eat with friends and family.
At the heart of Japanese cuisine
As you can see, there are many uses for dashi stock beyond the standard examples of miso soup and ramen. Dashi has been used for a very long time in Japan, so it is no surprise that so many dishes developed around the use of it. It is a clear demonstration of how incredibly versatile this ingredient is since it can be used in so many different ways and be a critical part of a lot of recipes.
If you are ever looking for a recipe that makes the most out of dashi stock and its rich umami content, then give one of the above items a try.
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Read more: what is katsuobushi and how do I use it?