One of the most basic things about Japanese cooking that baffled me before living in Japan was how to make dashi. I knew it was easy and that the ingredients were readily available, but I wanted to make it right. All from scratch. Here is the definitive guide to making dashi.
The easiest way to prepare dashi is to "cheat" and use its Bouillon cube equivalent - Hondashi. But be aware that this stuff packs some serious MSG punch and if you are not into that kind of thing, ask your grocer for a non-MSG equivalent. Or, to thwart any MSG contamination, make your dashi from scratch. Best part about this is that you can prepare a huge vat of dashi during the weekend to use throughout the week.
1. Have one strip of kombu ready.
2. Fill a big pot with water (about 5-6 quarts).
3. Put the kombu strip into the pot.
4. Leave UNCOVERED for 20 minutes. I also add some of these little shrimp I get from Chinatown just to add another element of umami. Dried shitake or Asian mushrooms of any sort are also a welcome addition.
5. Shave bonito - about 2 tablespoons. I received a bonito shaver as a going-away gift in Japan. I bought my blocks of bonito at Tsukiji. Hida Tools sells bonito shavers, as do several online stores. Just google "bonito shaver" and you should be on your way to purchasing one. Of course, you can always buy shaved bonito (this will save time), but freshly shaved bonito is like freshly ground coffee beans - it makes a world of difference.
6. After the kombu has been sitting in the pot for 20 minutes, turn the heat on to high.
7. Once steam starts dancing on the surface of the water, dump in about 2 tablespoons of shaved bonito, OR two thick shavings of bonito.
8. When the dashi comes to a boil, turn off the heat. Let the contents cool a bit, then strain the liquid through a fine strainer or through cheesecloth so that none of the katsuobushi flakes end up in the final dashi.
9. Now you have a week's worth of dashi! Store the dashi in air-tight containers and refrigerate.
Come back next Thursday when I'll be making proper miso soup using this dashi.