The requisite chef’s of Japanese cuisine are masters of flavor, often producing genuinely authentic, highly flavorful dishes from the simplest of ingredients. Usually working with all natural ingredients, a Japanese dish is often loaded with vitamins and nutrients, contributing to a healthy lifestyle.
In regards to soup, miso soup is familiar to many, a mainstay in most Japanese restaurants, addictively delicious and surprisingly healthy. But a lesser known, yet highly fundamental soup stock used primarily in Japanese culture is known as dashi.
Dashi is a simple broth produced from the kombu seaweed (a form of edible kelp), and dried bonito flakes (bonito is a fish). Simmering and boiling these ingredients in water imparts a subtle yet significant flavor, forming the basic soup stock. Dashi is not only the resident soup stock used for miso, but for nearly all Japanese soups, including noodle soups.
Occasionally, other ingredients are introduced to the stock in order to produce a wide range of flavor, such as sakÃ?Â© (Japanese rice wine), mirin (Japanese cooking wine), and rice vinegar.
Japanese cuisine frequently uses three types of dashi. Ichiban dashi is most commonly found as the basis for clear soups, such as noodle soups or miso soup. The delicate flavor compliments the miso and ingredients of other soups quite nicely, without being too overpowering. Niban dashi is not as refined and is primarily used as a simmering liquid for vegetables, while Konbu dashi, made primarily from kelp, is ideal for meat and fish, as it has a milder, gentle flavor. All three stocks are used with their respective dishes to produce an effective, perfect balance of flavor.
While these are indeed the most common dashi stocks, there are still others, used to a lesser extent, made with the addition of either dried sardines or shiitake mushrooms, among others. The many forms of dashi are ideal for adding wonderful flavors to foods without the addition of extra sugar or salt.
Many brands of dashi can be found in asian groceries in forms similar to the American beef and chicken stocks we are all familiar with. You may also be able to find it available in the international section of your supermarket. You can also make you own by purchasing the simple ingredients at an Asian grocery and following the instructions on the packaging.