Japanese Food Fundamental: Dashi

January 8, 2009 | By | Comments (8)

Dashikombu_2My cooking goal for 2009 is to expand my Japanese culinary repertoire. I got started early in December by learning how to make dashi. This clear, basic stock is fundamental to Japanese cooking, the base for most soups and a key ingredient in many non-soup dishes. Its flavor is very subtle, yet when it’s done right, it can take a dish from good to great.

Intriguingly, dashi is appearing in the cuisine of some established Western chefs, including Eric Ripert (Le Bernardin) and Jonathan Benno (Per Se). Check out the New York Times story about this trend.

Making dashi is easy, but it requires a trip to an Asian market for the two key ingredients: kombu, an edible type of kelp cultivated in Japan, and katsuobushi, fine shavings of dried bonito, a type of tuna.

The process is simple: Place a 4- to 5-inch strip of kombu in a pot with about 5 cups of cold water and slowly bring the water to a boil. Just before the water boils, remove the kelp and turn off the heat. Add a handful (2 or 3 Tablespoons) of bonito flakes and steep. When the flakes sink to the bottom of the pot, strain the liquid through a fine sieve. What’s left is a very delicate, clear broth that smells faintly of the sea.

DashibonitoI had always used the shortcut of instant dashi (or even chicken bouillon, which is what my Japanese-American mother often uses in her
cooking). If you’re in a pinch, this certainly won’t ruin a recipe. But
instant dashi can be harsh and salty compared to the real thing. And
now that I’ve learned how simple it is to make dashi from scratch, I
don’t think I’ll go back to those shortcuts.

So far I’ve used dashi as a base for miso soup, for udon, and as an
ingredient in dishes such as braised gobo (burdock) with carrots, a
traditional Japanese New Year’s food. It appears in most of the recipes I’ve been eyeing in various Japanese cookbooks.

Check out the video below the jump for a decent demo of making dashi. Note that it appears
to use different proportions and an extra step (adding cold water before putting in the bonito flakes) from my
simpler, handed-down recipe (which, by the way, is untested by our Test Kitchens).
You can also try our vegegarian dashi recipe for a fishless alternative.


  1. cabbage soup diet

    Hey just wanted to give you a brief heads up and let you know a few of the images aren’t loading properly. I’m not sure why but I think its a linking issue.
    I’ve tried it in two different browsers and both show the same outcome.

    January 24, 2013 at 11:09 pm
  2. J Estes

    Is there an online grocer that sells decent komba and bonito flakes?

    September 5, 2011 at 4:38 pm
  3. Eddie

    Hiya Kim, I too set out to learn a little about Japanese cooking this year, and I too learned to make dashi. I think the Japanese diet must be the healthiest on the planet. Tastes good too! In fact, I went on a miso soup diet and lost 25 pounds.

    August 7, 2011 at 1:21 pm
  4. Nathan

    So far I’ve used dashi as a base for miso soup, for udon

    January 18, 2011 at 11:56 pm
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  8. Stacy Guthrie, myweddingfilm

    I’ve never even heard of dashi. What a fun goal, most people choose ‘get in shape’, but I like your style better!

    January 8, 2009 at 9:47 pm

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