“In 1980, Shizuo Tsuji wrote: “Many substitutes for dashi are possible, but without dashi, dishes are merely à la japonaise and lack the authentic flavor.” Dashi is a class of soup and cooking stock, considered fundamental to Japanese cooking. Made from only water, dried kombu and dried smoked bonito, basic dashi forms the base for miso soup, clear broth, noodle broth, and many kinds of simmering liquid. Dashi is as common to Japanese cooking as chicken and beef stock is to American, and is the world’s only animal stock containing virtually no fat. Unlike western stock which masks the taste of main ingredients, lighter and clearer dashi elevates the flavors of them. Making dashi is the key to fine Japanese cooking. And Chef Yamada will show you how to turn western ingredients into healthier Japanese dishes with the magic of dashi.”
I walked into the Bouley Test Kitchen expecting to taste samples of dashi, but instead, Chef Yamada of Brushstroke not only educated us about the different ways of making dashi and different types of dashi, but also demonstrated that dashi is the base and secret behind many flavorful dishes (and fed us until our bellies were happily full!)
I was surprised that there was a lot about basic dashi and even katsuobushi (dried bonito) that I didn’t know. For example, there is katsuobushi that includes the bloodline, which has more umami and is ideal for dashi to be used for udon soup or cooking vegetables with. The katsuobushi with no bloodline has a much cleaner taste and it more appropriate for osuimono (clear dashi soup). One very interesting point that Chef Yamada mentioned was that traditionally, chefs always cleaned konbu with a damp cloth, but the fine white powder on the surface is what contains the most glutamic acid.
One important point that was mentioned in this demo is that fact that dashi making may be a quick process, especially compared to the traditional stocks in French cuisine that take hours to develop. However, one needs to keep in mind that making katsuobushi is a time consuming process. It not only gets dried, but also smoked and inoculated with mould. Harvesting konbu is quite a time consuming and labor intensive process, and drying it also takes time. So it makes sense that dashi can be made so quickly. Chef Yamada told us that scientifically, it has been found that dashi is made best by simmering the konbu in water for 50 minutes at 60 degrees Celsius. This cooking time depends on the type of water you use. Hard water is not suitable for dashi making (New York City tap water is no good apparently!), and Chef Yamada actually used Fiji water to make all the dashi! It is when the inocinic acid of dried bonito (katsuo) and the glutamic acid of konbu are combined that umami is enhanced.
He demonstrated numerous different ways of making dashi and made these following dishes.