There’s one ingredient that is so archetypal for Japanese cuisine that you just can’t live without it – for many reasons. I am talking about dashi, a rich, smoky broth made of seaweed and bonito flakes that builds the base for many Japanese udon noodle dishes and many others. See it as a basic staple for Asian food in general.
When made right, dashi is a combination of a strong umami taste coming from the seaweed (Kombu) together with a strong fishy and smoky flavor that it inherits from katsuobushi – smoked bonito flakes. You might know them from other Japanese dishes that have them sprinkled all over, auch as okonomiyaki or takoyaki. Katsuobushi seems to move like it’s alive when sprinkled over hot foods.
How do we make dashi? Preparation is relatively easy, but there is both a quick way and a good way. I don’t need to mention that Japanese cooking is all about perfection so let’s just look at the good way for making dashi.
We soak a few pieces of kombu together with a handful of katsuobushi overnight in water. If we want, we can add some dry shiitake mushrooms, it will give a nice earthy flavor to the broth. Next morning, we heat the broth with ingredients until just before boiling point, and then strain the solids.
The result should be a clear, extremely tasty broth that can be used for ramen dishes or to steam root vegetables.