If you’ve ever eaten miso soup or other Japanese food, chances are you’ve had dashi (DA-shee). Described by some as “the secret ingredient” in Japanese cooking, dashi is a simple stock made of dried bonito tuna flakes, kombu (dried kelp) and water. The Japanese say it “tastes like the sea”; most of us would think it’s slightly salty and somewhat smoky. In Japan, dashi is used for simmering meats and vegetables and as a base for soups and noodle dishes.
In Japan, many home cooks use instant dashi, called “hon-dashi,” a granulated form of this stock, which is reconstituted in water.
But making dashi from scratch takes only minutes: kombu is put into water, the water is brought to a boil, the bonito is added, and the pot is taken off the heat. When the bonito sinks to the bottom, it’s done its job, and the stock is strained. Frugal Japanese cooks reuse the bonito for a “second dashi,” an only slightly less precious kitchen staple.
The ingredients for dashi can be found in well-stocked grocery and natural food stores, instant dashi can be found in Asian markets, and all of the above can be purchased online. You shouldn’t suffer guilt pangs if using instant dashi—many highly respected Japanese restaurants use it to make their miso soup.