A Quick Guide to Dashi

Dashijiru, or “dashi” for short, is the all-purpose Japanese soup stock and is among the pillars of Japanese cuisine. The reason for this is that it’s a veritable (and relatively neutral tasting) umami bomb, which can turn up the volume of flavors on just about any dish (not just Japanese ones) in the right proportions (more on umami). It can also be among the most frustrating to learn with all the contradictory information available on the internet and in books, foreign language terminology and soul crushingly confusing combinations of ingredients. It just so happens, dear Reader, that I’ve studied under Japanese chefs in Japan who happen to be dashi masters (if such a thing exists). The following is the fruit of my labor and your quick dashi guide (PDF Reference Sheet).

Dashi literally translates as “to take out,” which is literally what we are doing: Extracting tastes and flavors from dried ingredients into water. The process for making dashi generally takes the same form: Mix cold water with you dashi ingredient in the ratio specified below (“30” means 30 g of dashi ingredient per liter of water) for the indicated duration. After the cold soak, pour the cold water and dashi ingredient into a large saucepan. At medium heat, raise the temperature of the water to the temperature specified. This should take about five to eight minutes (depending on the temperature). After bringing to temperature, steep for the duration as indicated. After the hot water steep, strain through a fine mesh strainer (such as a chinois) or a sarashi cloth.

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Dashi Ingredient: Kombu (dried giant seaweed sheets)
Suggested Uses: In place of water in any savory recipe
Ratio (g/L of Water): 30
Cold Water Soak Time: At least 4 hours, no greater than 24 hours
Hot Water Steep Temperature: 75 °C (167 °F)
Hot Water Steep Time: 20 minutes
Comments: Before cold water soak, cut quarter inch slits one inch apart along edges. A quick, 40 minute soak at room temperature may be used as a shortcut, but will result in inferior tasting dashi. May be used separately or combined with niboshi, katsuobushi, shiitake or gara. If combining and cold soaking is required for both ingredients, cold soak ingredients together in proportions indicated (with the exception of shiitake, see entry for details). For example, if combining with niboshi, combine 30 g of kombu, 40 g of niboshi as indicated and one liter of water. Soak for the time specified for niboshi (since this time is appropriate for both kombu and niboshi). If cold soaking is not required for one ingredient (for example, in the case of katsuobushi), include ingredient only in the hot steep, as indicated.
Featured Recipes: Unpenjiru; Miso Soup; Two Braised Chickpea Recipes; Three Vietnamese-Inspired Soup Recipes

Dashi Ingredient: Niboshi (dried immature sardines)
Suggested Uses: In place of water for milder flavored dishes, such as vegetable or seafood soups or stews
Ratio (g/L of Water): 40
Cold Water Soak Time: 8 hours
Hot Water Steep Temperature: 75 °C (167 °F)
Hot Water Steep Time: 10 minutes
Comments: Before cold water soak, pinch off sardine heads and remove organs as they can result in bitter, cloudy dashi. A quick, 40 minute soak at room temperature may be used as a short cut for 40 minutes, but will result in inferior tasting dashi. May be used separately or combined with kombu or shiitake. If combining with kombu, during hot water steep, remove from heat after time specified (10 minutes) and continue to let kombu steep for the additional time specified (another 10 minutes). See kombu comments for additional instructions. If combining with shiitake, see shiitake instructions for additional instructions.

Dashi Ingredient: Katsuobushi (smoked and desiccated bonito filets, thinly shaved)
Suggested Uses: To add a heartier, smoky flavor to an existing stock, as described
Ratio (g/L of Water): 30
Cold Water Soak Time: None
Hot Water Steep Temperature: 75 °C (167 °F)
Hot Water Steep Time: Until katsuobushi flakes sink to the bottom of the pan, about 5 minutes
Comments: Generally not used separately, but combined with kombu or gara. Only use thinly shaved katsuobushi. Do not perform a cold water soak. If combining with kombu, add after first 15 minutes of the kombu’s hot water steep, scattering the flakes over the surface of the water and hot water steeping as indicated. If combining with gara, finish dashi by scattering the flakes over the surface of the water and hot water steeping as indicated.
Featured Recipes: Unpenjiru; Miso Soup

Dashi Ingredient: Shiitake (dried black forest mushrooms)
Suggested Uses: In place of water in a vegetable stock or as a stock base in a vegetable soup or stew
Ratio (g/L of Water): 25
Cold Water Soak Time: At least 8 hours, no greater than 24 hours
Hot Water Steep Temperature: 75 °C (167 °F)
Hot Water Steep Time: Until shiitakes are warmed through, about 2 minutes
Comments: May be used separately or combined with kombu or niboshi. If combining with kombu or niboshi, use only 5 g of shiitake per liter of water, cold water soak together with kombu for no between 8 and 24 hours and with niboshi for 8 hours. Hot water steep with kombu or niboshi together for the time specified (2 minutes) and remove. Continue to steep kombu or niboshi as indicated above (20 minutes and 10 minutes, respectively).
Featured Recipes: Unpenjiru

Dashi Ingredient: Gara (chicken bones and sinew including necks, backs and wings). Note: Include sake as indicated. May substitute other livestock bones in place of chicken, but be sure to carefully clean away all exposed marrow after shimo furi step.
Suggested Uses: In place of conventionally prepared or store purchased chicken stock
Ratio (g/L of Water): 225 chicken, 10 sake
Cold Water Soak Time: None
Hot Water Steep Temperature: 80 °C (176 °F)
Hot Water Steep Time: 4 hours
Comments: Before hot water steep, perform shimo furi, or “frost falling” procedure. Place the chicken bones and sinew in a strainer and pour boiling water over them until all of the exposed the surface of the bones turns subtly white. Turn bones over and perform shimo furi once again, then begin hot water steep (including sake) for indicated duration. During steeping, remove any aku or white froth that develops on the surface. Strain through a coffee filter line mesh strainer when complete. Combine with kombu or shiitake by using prepared individual dashi (or combined dashi) from process as indicated above. Combine with katsuobushi as indicated above.
Featured Recipes: Three Vietnamese-Inspired Soup Recipes

Dashi Ingredient: Shojin (daizu/dried soybeans, kampyo/dried gourd shavings)
Suggested Uses: In place of water in a vegetable stock or as a stock base in a vegetable soup or stew
Ratio (g/L of Water): 50 daizu, 15 kampyo
Cold Water Soak Time: At least 8 hours, but no greater than 10 hours
Hot Water Steep Temperature: 75 °C (167 °F)
Hot Water Steep Time: 20 minutes
Comments: Generally not used separately, but combined with kombu or kombu-shiitake dashi. If combining with kombu, cold soak in proportions as indicated above, but for no longer than 10 hours. Perform hot water steep as indicated above, removing the daizu, kampyo and kombu at the same time. If combining with kombu-shiitake dashi, cold soak with 25 g kombu and 20 g shiitake per liter of water, as indicated above. Perform hot water steep, removing the shiitakes after a period as indicated above and removing the daizu, kampyo and kombu at the same time.

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