Dashi is what Japanese call "soup stock" and the expression literally means "extraction." While there are various kinds of dashi, the most common is made from katsuo-bushi (flakes of dried fish), of which there are two types, the "first-run" and the "second-run."

The first-run has the best flavor, and is used in clear soups (o-suimono) and for soups for soba or udon noodles. Here's how to make it.

E About 15 grams (1/2 ounce) of katsuo-bushi
E About 10 grams (1/3 ounce) of kombu, a thick, dried seaweed for cooking
E 1 liter (about 5 cups) of water

Rinse the kombu, and put it in the water as you heat the water. When the kombu softens and floats to the surface, remove it. When small bubbles form on the sides of the pot, just before the water comes to a boil, add the katsuo-bushi, then turn off the heat and let the fish flakes settle for a few seconds, then strain into a fine colander or sieve, separating the stock from the katsuo-bushi.

The main point is to minimize the time the katsuo-bushi is in the hot water so that only the clean, smoky flavor emerges. If it is boiled for any length of time, the stock will become harsh and somewhat bitter.

Also, avoid leaving the kombu in the hot water for any length of time because the natural thickeners (agar) will add an undesired texture or "thickness" to the broth.

Second-run Dashi is made from the remaining katsuo-bushi strained from the first-run stock, along with the piece of kombu which was removed. Make this in the same way. This type of dashi is used to season vegetables or other foods.

This basic dashi recipe can be augmented with small dried sardines or other fish for a richer, more fish-like flavor. This kind of stock is commonly used for miso soup.

A larger amount of kombu may also be added and simmered for a longer time to give a slightly thicker texture to the soup, making it better for use with boiled tofu (yu-dofu) or mixed pot (nabemono) dishes.

Some Japanese cooks further season these soups with a little soy sauce. If you do this, add only a very small amount at a time because the delicate katsuo-bushi flavors are easily overpowered.


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