What Is Dashi, and How Should You Use It Beyond Miso Soup?
Think of dashi as a delicate vegetable broth. Japanese cooking uses this cornerstone ingredient in much of the cuisine — so much so, that Japanese cooks make dashi daily or rely on dashi powder or packets to prepare the broth. Dashi can not be replaced or replicated with any other stock or broth, making it a powerful tool for cooking and eating.
What Is Dashi?
Dashi, sometimes called sea stock, is an all-purpose vegetable broth. The primary ingredient is kombu, sea kelp that has been dried and cut into sheets and is responsible for miso soup’s deep umami flavors. Kombu dashi can be enhanced by the addition of dried bonito flakes, dried mushrooms, or even dried sardines to further develop its savory qualities.
How Dashi Is Made
Dashi is made by soaking the kombu in water overnight or gently bringing the kombu and water to a simmer. Both methods remove kombu’s glutamic acid, which appears on the kombu as fine white crystals. Soaking overnight also softens the kombu significantly more than simmering, making the kombu viable for chopping and adding to the miso soup for eating. This is the dashi we associate with miso soup.
The leftover kombu from the first batch of dashi can be boiled for a second dashi that is less delicate and cloudy in appearance. This dashi is often used for other soups and for poaching fish and vegetables.
There is also a world of flavored dashis, including a shiitake mushroom-enhanced dashi and more western adaptations that include everything from tomatoes to carrots.
The Two Traditional Dashis
How to Use Dashi
Dashi makes a scrumptious starting point for soups of all kinds, with the most notable being being miso, but this base is also a flavorful poaching liquid. Delicate fish and vegetables can be simmered in dashi for cooking and for serving, as can whole tofu filets. Eggs poached in dashi are sublime — I highly suggest trying them on your next at-home adventure.
Dashi can be added to vinaigrettes — both for simple salads and for dipping tempura. Use dashi as a sort of brine for fish, chicken, shrimp, or scallops before cooking.
Warm dashi can also be served on its own as an elixir for whatever might ail you: it’s reported to aid digestion and soothe sore throats, although these may be a placebo of warm broth, in which case the comfort of soup is reason enough to enjoy it if you’re feeling under the weather.