Today the NY Times ran my story about dashi, a look at how Western chefs across the country are now cooking with this essential stock of Japanese cuisine. As regular readers of the Report know, I'm intrigued by dashi. I thought to add a few more ideas about this remarkable broth to expand on the article.
The NYT piece included a dashi recipe graciously shared by chef Sono-san of the amazing restaurant Kyo Ya (which was just awarded a Michelin star, by the way -- congratulations, Sono-san!). It's for an all-purpose dashi, or niban dashi, meaning "second." Second? Kombu and katsuobushi dashi (kelp and dried bonito), Sono-san explained to me, is prepared in two stages: Ichiban dashi, "first" dashi and niban dashi. The first dashi is a stock meant for clear broths (suimono). Ichiban dashi is very delicate and meant to be consumed quickly, within ten minutes, he said. Here's how Sono-san prepares his, if I got it right:
- 2 liters of soft water (hard New York City water won't work - Sono-san has a water softer in the restaurant)
- 20 grams of kombu (see below)
- 80 grams of katsuobushi (see below)
In a saucepan, soak the kombu in water for 20 minutes then bring up to heat until it reaches 60 degrees Celsius. You'll see small bubbles appear along the sides and bottom of the saucepan. Remove the kombu. Turn off the heat (I think that's right, I'm going to double check). Add the katsuobushi and let it steep in the liquid until the flakes sink to the bottom. Strain through a cloth lined fine mesh sieve. Don't squeeze the flakes, which will cloud the liquid.
The result is a fragrant, super umami-rich stock. Add a pinch of salt or drops of usukuchi shoyu and the savory flavor just takes off for the cosmos. The last time I had dinner at Kyo Ya, Sono-san served me suimono with hamo (conger eel), matsutake mushrooms and yuzu rind. So simple but so unbelievably satisfying. Head to this restaurant if you can, and try it. A must.
Okay, back to planet earth and dashi. Niban dashi is an all purpose dashi for miso soup, infusions, any cooking technique that calls for dashi. You can prepare it with the ingredients from the ichiban dashi plus an extra boost of katsuobushi, or you can create niban dasih on its own, as I describe in the article recipe. Either way, this is a really versatile stock. When I tested Sono-san's recipe, I used the niban dashi for miso soup and ohitashi, and both were terrific.
Now, what about kombu and katsuobushi. Reporting the dashi story, I learned a new world about these ingredients (one of the reasons I love Japanese cuisine, so endlessly fascinating). First of all, kombu is not just kombu. Some ten varieties are harvested in the cold waters off Hokkaido, the finest being Ma-kombu, Rishiri-kombu and Rausu-kombu. Each has its own flavor profile, and chefs prefer different ones. For example, Sono-san likes to prepares his dashi for suimono with Rausu-kombu.
Now, on to katsuobushi. Sono-san used "honkarebushi chiai ri" dried, shaved bonito. This mouthful means the katsuobushi was dried with mold and has a strong blood line intact, two qualities which give it a particular flavor dimension. The process for making katsuobusi is complex and jaw-dropping. Check out A Dictionary of Japanese Food, page 200, for more details (a required book if you're interested in Japanese cooking). Also, here's a Japanese language link about kombu and katsuobushi, in case that's helpful.
Final thought: Sono-san mentioned that every Japanese chef has his or her own technique of preparing dashi. There's no "right" way. Yes, there's an underlying method of extraction (kombu) and infusion (katsuobushi), but every chef does with their own choice of base ingredients in the manner they think best. Fascinating.
Please leave me a comment if you have more to share about dashi. I'd love to know.