Dashi is a basic stock in the Japanese kitchen arsenal. There are vegan and pescatarian forms of dashi. Both provide umami, described as savory and the fifth taste beyond salty, sweet, sour, and bitter. The ingredients used to make dashi naturally contain umami.
Types of Dashi
There are five types of dashi. Some include a single ingredient and others are a combination. All are fairly simple to make:
- Awase dashi, the most commonly used dashi, is the backbone of Japanese cooking. It’s the version used to make miso soup. Kombu (dried kelp) is brought to a simmer in water and removed. Then katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes) is added to the water and brought to a boil, steeped, and then strained out. The resulting stock is golden, smoky, and slightly briny. Katsuobushi is smoked and fermented skipjack tuna. It is available in Japanese markets, ranging from beautiful large pink shavings to pre-measured packets of smaller, darker flakes. This recipe is for awase dashi.
- Kombu dashi is vegan, made by soaking or simmering kombu in water, sometimes overnight in the refrigerator. It has a light flavor and is used for light soups and anywhere a mildly-flavored stock is needed.
- Katsuo dashi is made by sprinkling katsuobushi into a pot of near-simmering water. The flakes are soaked off the heat and then strained. This dashi has a smoky fishy flavor and is commonly used for soups.
- Iriko dashi, another fish-based dashi, is made with dried anchovies or sardines, a more affordable everyday alternative to katsuobushi, which can be pricey. It has a strong, fishy flavor. My Korean friends often make yuksu, the Korean version of dashi, using dried anchovies and kombu. It’s used as a base for braises, stews, soups, and noodle soups.
- Hoshi-shiitake dashi or shiitake dashi, is a vegan dashi made with dried shiitake mushrooms. The mushrooms can be soaked in water overnight in the refrigerator. It is strong and earthy, perfect for when you need a hearty punch of flavor for noodle soups or braises. When I make sticky rice, I add some shiitake dashi for more flavor.
When making this dashi recipe, you can get two brewings out of the kombu and katsuobushi. The first, also known as ichiban dashi, has a bolder and more prominent flavor. Use it whenever a recipe calls for dashi, but it’s especially good for when you need to appreciate its flavor like in clear soups and chawanmushi, a Japanese egg custard.
The kombu and katsuobushi after making the ichiban dashi can be reserved for another round—a less intense stock called niban dashi. The spent kombu and katsuobushi are simmered in water and strained just like the first. It’ll be a lighter, less flavorful dashi that’s still as delicious.
Tips for Making the Best Dashi
While dashi is very easy to make, here are some tips to help you along:
- Try to buy good-quality ingredients. Look for thick pieces of kombu with a white powdery substance on its surface called mannitol—this is where umami comes from so don’t wash it off! Look for bonito flakes that are large pale pink shavings. This is the brand of bonito flakes I recommend.
- I prefer to shop for the kombu and bonito flakes at a Japanese market, where you can find a large variety.
- Although not required, you can soak the kombu in water in the fridge overnight to kickstart the dashi. Transfer them into a pot the next day and bring it to a simmer to draw out even more flavor. Even a 30-minute soak before heating it will bring out more flavor.
- Remove the kombu from the water before it comes to a boil—it will otherwise get bitter and make the broth slimy. Once the kelp and bonito flakes are removed from the dashi, it’s safe to bring it to a boil if necessary.
A Shortcut: Dashi Powder
You can make dashi with instant dashi powder. Dissolve it in water or sprinkle it directly into a dish the way you would any other dried seasoning. Instant dashi is made with dried bonito powder, salt, sugar, and other additives. It often includes MSG—also naturally found in kelp.
Dashi powder is convenient and commonly used when you need a small amount of dashi. There’s no shame in using it in a pinch. Ajinomoto Hondashi is a popular brand.
A Small Upgrade: Dashi Sachets
Dashi sachets are tea bags that contain small bits of bonito, kombu, a variety of dried fish like sardines, herring, and flying fish, and dried shiitake mushrooms. They are brewed in hot water just like tea. The flavors are more complex and bolder than dashi powder. Follow the package instructions for the amount of water needed. This is a brand of dashi sachets I like.
More Back-Pocket Stock Recipes
- 1 (14 x 2 1/2-inch) piece kombu (dried kelp)
- 8 cups water
- 2 cups (20g) large katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes), lightly packed
Soak the kombu:
In a medium pot, add the kombu and 8 cups water, and set it over medium heat until it’s just about to come to a simmer, uncovered. The water should not boil. This will take 15 to 20 minutes. The kombu will expand quite a bit and the water will be pale yellow.
Use tongs to remove the kombu from the pot and discard it. You can also reserve it in the fridge to make a second lighter batch of dashi.
Add the katsuobushi:
Add the katsuobushi to the pot and bring it to a boil over medium-high heat, uncovered. Immediately remove the pot from the heat. The flakes will float in a soggy layer on top of the water.
Let the flakes sink to the bottom of the pot and let them steep for 15 minutes— no need to push them down, they will sink on their own.
Strain the dashi:
Set a fine mesh strainer over a large bowl or an 8-cup glass measuring cup. Pour the dashi through the strainer. You will have what looks like a golden broth. Discard the katsuobushi or save them along with the kombu for a second batch of dashi.
To make a second batch of lighter dashi: Add the spent kombu, katsuobushi, and 6 cups water in a pot, and bring it to a boil. Scoop out the kombu right before it comes to a boil. Let the dashi steep off the heat for 15 minutes and strain.
The dashi can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week or frozen for up to 3 months.
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