As a source of umami, dashi is even more elemental to Japanese cooking than parmesan or anchovies are to Italian cooking or chicken broth is to Western cooking in general. Dashi is a broth made of kombu (dried kelp) and shavings of katsuobushi, which is commonly referred to as dried bonito in English, but is actually dried, fermented and smoked skipjack tuna. There are as many subtly different versions of dashi as there are Japanese cooks and not surprisingly, Japanese chefs think very hard about small variations in the quality of the ingredients - "Western water is no good for dashi!" - as well as temperatures and techniques - "don't stir!". For my recipe, I have settled on a version I learned from Chef Yorinobu Yamasaki of NYC's excellent Donguri restaurant.

With just two widely available ingredients other than water, making a respectable dashi is straightforward and quick. It definitely beats boiling bones for many hours to make bone broth. Dashi is best the day it's made but will keep a few days in the fridge. I've never had a problem using up fresh dashi since it's so versatile. If you enter dashi into the search window on my site, you will find a number of possible uses and if these seem like too much of a production, you could always throw together a delicious clear soup in minutes, adding to the dashi a splash of soy sauce, a pinch of salt and anything from thinly sliced vegetables or shiitake mushrooms to whole cherry tomatoes or diced tofu. I also keep a few dashi ice cubes in my freezer in an airtight Ziploc bag for occasions when I only need a small quantity.

Making dashi (yields about 6½ cups):

Fill a pot with 2 qt cold (!) water and a 4 x 6 inches piece of kombu. If you can, soak the kombu overnight in the fridge before continuing. Heat the pot quickly, uncovered, until the water is almost at a rolling boil and the largest of the bubbles forming in the water are about ¼-inch thick. Turn off the heat, remove the kombu and squeeze it a little with your fingernails. If it’s soft on the surface (but not soft throughout), then it’s done and can be removed. Thicker kombu may have to “cook” a little longer (while keeping just shy of a rolling boil). Discard the kombu and add ½ cup of cold water to lower the temperature of the broth. Drop 5 loosely packed cups katsuobushi flakes (2 oz in weight) into the pot but do not stir. Wait for the flakes to submerge and skim off any white foam that might form on the surface with a fine steel mesh skimmer. Wait a few more minutes for the katsuobushi flakes to sink about an inch or so below the surface. Place a cotton kitchen towel (well rinsed, ideally washed in fragrance-free detergent) over a strainer placed over a large mixing bowl and strain the broth through the cloth. Extract a little more of the liquid out by pushing down gently but do not try to squeeze out the last drop. 

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