Secret ingredient: Dashi
You've probably heard of people using a dash of some special ingredient in their cooking, but what about dashi? Here's how to make the most of the ingredient that's crucial to good Japanese cooking.
WHAT IS DASHI?
Dashi is a Japanese stock or broth and a cornerstone of the cooking of that country. It is made from cold water brought just to the boil with a piece of kombu seaweed. The seaweed is removed and then katsuobushi (dried, fermented, and smoked skipjack tuna) shavings are added, before the liquid is returned to the boil. As soon as the shavings absorb enough water so that the sink to the bottom of the pot the liquid is poured off to become dashi.
Nowadays, as katsuobushi flakes are so highly prized and thus are expensive, bonito flakes may also be used.
WHAT DOES IT TASTE LIKE?
Dashi has a sweet/savoury, delicate smoky flavour and forms the foundation for a myriad of Japanese soups, sauces and broths.
WHERE CAN I FIND IT?
You will find it in Japanese food stores or in the international aisle of a good supermarket. And you can make it yourself easily enough with a bag of bonito flakes and some kombu.
WHAT CAN I USE INSTEAD?
You could use a delicate fish stock in its place but it won't have that unique smoky quality. Better still, make your own and keep it in the fridge.
GOT ANY GOOD RECIPES USING IT?
Most Japanese cookbooks will have recipes calling for dashi. Try a classic Japanese savoury breakfast with eggs and tofu over rice with mixed, cooked vegetables in a dashi broth; or sugar snap peas, daikon and egg soup. Another delicious combination involves simmered succulent tofu in warmed dashi with mirin, soy and bonito flakes.
If you love South Island clams, try their briny flavour simmered in a dashi broth with miso and sake.
Sarah La Touche is a member of the New Zealand Guild of Food Writers and a holistic nutritionist, cookbook author, facilitator and food writer. She also hosts gastronomic tours in France and Spain and runs specialist cook schools.
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