Short of soy sauce and rice, no ingredient is as essential to Japanese cuisine as dashi. Used for soups, sauces, braises, and then some, it’s a foundational building block well worth mastering. As Japanese cooking legend Elizabeth Andoh puts it,
Ichicban dashi—literally “best broth”—takes many forms in Japanese cooking. It is lighter and fresher than long-simmered, gelatinous French stock and it lends dishes a clean, fresh umami instead of heavy, meaty body. Put it to use in this cold soba noodle salad recipe, then keep it around for all sorts of things.
Here’s how Andoh makes hers.
Start With Cold Water
While some cooks heat their water before adding their flavorings off the stove, Andoh prefers a gentler method. She soaks the ingredients in a jar of cold tap water for at least 20 minutes and up to 12 hours, depending on how much flavor she wants to extract. “The jar can be left at room temperature unless it is a very hot day, in which case I recommend you place it in the refrigerator and allow at least two hours to draw out flavor. After extracting flavor,” she goes on, “the stock can be kept refrigerated for up to four days.”
Make the Most of Your Mushrooms
At its most strikingly minimal, dashi is made with nothing but tap water and kombu, though shiitaké mushrooms and dried fish flakes (bonito) are also common additions. Purchase high quality mushrooms, handle them with care, and make the most of them.
Andoh purchases whole dried shiitakes and separates the caps from the stems; the caps are great for rehydrating and simmering in soy sauce for a cold soba salad or pickling; the tough stems are loaded with flavor and perfect for infusing dashi with the mushrooms’ woodsy umami notes.
And for a Punchier Potion…
Japanese chefs often save the leftover ingredients from straining ichiban dashi to make a stronger, less refined “secondary stock” (niban-dashi) that is great for adding to dipping sauces and braising liquids.
Andoh explains that “You can… make a secondary stock from the same kombu and shiitaké mushroom bits by… adding more cold water. Simmer for several minutes and strain. This secondary stock will keep well for several days in the refrigerator.”
What should you use it for? Anything your heart desires—even a Bloody Mary.