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A Dashi of This and a Dashi of That

kombu after making ichiban dashi

Dashi is the stock most used in Japanese cooking. The ingredients are simple, seaweed and shavings from a block of the dried fish known as bonito, and the method could not be simpler. Much of Japanese food is approachable like this and it’s a shame that so many people think that you need some sort of superskills in order to prepare Japanese food. Oh yes, there are Japanese masters! But there are also students who only eat 2 minute noodles for every meal but then manage to feed their families well once they’ve moved on to the next stage in life. Like anything, you can learn a few good tricks or you can go in for a major qualification. I say, learn a few nice things and leave the fancy stuff to the professionals. That’s the joy in eating out, isn’t it?


Once you’ve tried making dashi, and you realise how quick and easy it is, you can keep the ingredients on hand so that you are always ready with a base stock. Bring in some tofu, veggies or meat and you have soup! Add some miso and voila! Dashi is also used in other recipes such as for cooking vegetables or making sauces, so knowing how to make it is a good thing to have up your sleeve. Of course each cook will have his or her own preferences, but if you start here you can then adjust to make it more smokey by adding extra katsuobushi or more gentle by using more water or whatever. You can also make it with niboshi, tiny dried sardines, or with dried shiitake mushrooms for a totally vegetarian version. Have a play around.

straining through a coffee filter

Straining through a coffee filter keeps it clear

The ingredients are not usually cheap outside of Japan, but you do get good use out of them since the bits for the slightly stronger tasting ichiban dashi (1st dashi) are reused to make milder niban dashi (2nd dashi). You can also use the kombu again in other dishes or just chew on it as a snack. But,as I’ve said, I am here to prove how simple it is, right? So, let’s get to it!

niban dashi

Ichiban Dashi

You need:

A piece of dried kombu about as long as your hand, or pieces that add up to that

4 cups of cold water

1 big handful of katsuobushi (bonito flakes)

Start by placing the kombu into the water in a pan. Some say to wipe off the excess salt on the kombu with a towel first, but as long as there isn’t any sand or other grit you can safely leave this out. Your choice. Leave the kombu to rest in the water for 15 to 30 minutes. Have a cup of tea and peruse a few Japanese cookery books in the meantime to whet your appetite.

Now turn on the heat as if you are going to boil the kombu. Just before the bubbles start to appear, take the kombu out, drop in the katsuobushi and turn off the heat. Leave it to rest for a few minutes. Strain through paper kitchen towels or coffee filters to obtain a nice, clear broth for beautiful soups.

Niban Dashi

You need:

The leftover kombu and katsuobushi from Ichiban Dashi

Put the seaweed and fish flakes into a pot with 4 cups of water and bring to a light boil. Let it go for around 10 minutes and then strain.

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2 Responses to "A Dashi of This and a Dashi of That"

  1. Marie says:

    I’m not sure but I think it is now my duty to go out for bento just to find out;-) I can guess that it is grated daikon that you are talking about because that is often in salads or used as a side. And, as for the dressing, most Japanese dressings usually have a mix of rice vinegar, soy sauce, sugar and oil, as a base. Then they will add sesame seeds or ginger or whatever…and maybe some sweet sake. My mouth is watering just typing this!

  2. Rebecca says:

    YUM~ I think I need some Japanese cooking lessons! I have a question for you that I’ve been meaning to find the answer to… in NZ bento boxes (have you had one? anyway hopefully they’re the same as in Japan!) you have your main meal section like chicken katsu/teriyaki and smaller boxes of sushi, tempura, rice and usually salad – it’s the salad that I want to know about – there’s cabbage, carrot and grated something? is it Daikon? and how do they make that dressing? it’s kinda vinegary and kinda not. Sorry for the long winded message, but if you could solve the Japanese salad mystery for me I’d be very grateful! I’m keen to try this as the weather gets warmer. Thanks!

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