Friday, June 15, 2012

Dashi & Miso Soup: Get Cooking

The base, the mother lode, of Japanese cooking is dashi, a stock made from katsuobushi fish flakes and kombu dried sheets of seaweed. To make miso soup, you have to have miso and dashi. Let's consider why you should make dashi as opposed to sprinkling it out of a package.

Japanese Ikebana ladies, think ladies who lunch and wear pearls, marveled that I made dashi from scratch. Even in Japan, lots of cooks use dashi powder so why make dashi stock from scratch? It tastes better!

Katsuobushi is dried bonito fish flakes which look like wood shavings. Kombu is a dark green dried seaweed that comes in sheets or sticks. The Japanese word umami is recognized as the fifth taste element for a "pleasant savory taste." The classic pairing of katsuobushi and kombu yields a higher taste intensity of umami than each on its own and provides the pleasant savory taste experience similar to the more familiar paring, for Americans, of tomato sauce with mushrooms and parmesan cheese. You can't replicate this taste experience with powder-- think mac and cheese in a box versus homemade, think butter versus margarine.

Dashi Soup Stock 
Kombu dried seaweed, 1 stick about 6 inches (15 cm) long
Water, 4 cups
Katsuobushi fish flakes, 1-2 handful of about 1 oz (30 gm) per handful 
Wipe off any dirt on the kombu with a dry cloth. Place kombu into a pot of water. Heat water over medium low heat-- just until bubbles begin to form. When the kombu softens and unfurls it will feel soft, velvety, about 10 minutes. If left too long the stock will become cloudy. Remove the kombu and set aside for a later use or discard. You now have kombu water. 
To make clean up easier, put the katsuobushi fish flakes into a strainer that can sit in the pot of kombu water. If you don't have a strainer that can do this, drop the katsuobushi fish flakes directly into the kombu water. Continue with the heat to keep the kombu water simmering, but not boiling. When the flakes sink, it is time to remove them. Remove the strainer or scoop out the katsuobushi fish flakes with a mesh strainer. Congratulations, you have now made dashi. 
If you like, finely chop and stir fry the leftover kombu and katsuobushi fish flakes together with 1Tbsp of vegetable oil for 2 to 3 minutes. Add a splash or two of soy sauce, cook for another minute, adjust to taste, and use as a topping for rice.

To make miso soup, you need miso paste. Miso paste is made from fermented soy beans (this can vary), salt, and koji which is kind of like a yeast or mold that is obtained from sake breweries in Japan.

The color of the miso paste ranges from white to tan to red.  White or tan colored miso paste is generally mild and sweet. The darker, heartier miso paste is usually redder in color.

You have to learn with your pot, your whisk, and your appetite, how much to make and how much miso to use, but it should be slightly salty. Serve miso soup in a bowl. You don't even need a spoon, but if you put garnishes into the soup, a pair of chopsticks to get the bits out is helpful. Drink the miso soup from the bowl.

For miso soup garnishes, consider diced tofu, bits of wakame seaweed, or little colorful balls of pressed-wheat croutons called o-fu. It's also good with a shake of Japanese pepper. It's also good by itself. Daikon radish, green onion, negi which is only in Japan, and udon noodles are heartier accompaniments to miso soup.

Store opened miso covered and in the fridge.

Miso Soup
Miso Paste, 1 Tbsp per person or to taste
Dashi stock, 1 cup per person 
Heat dashi stock needed over medium low heat-- do not boil, just simmer. Using a whisk, add miso paste to the simmering dashi stock and whisk until dissolved. Again, do not allow the miso to boil as it will taste bitter, just simmer and whisk. Adjust to taste, serve. Garnish as you like. 

Idatakimasu I humbly receive,

Katsuobushi & Kombu, the foundation of Dashi stock & Japanese cooking
Soak the kombu over low heat until softened- you only need one stick
Put the katsuobushi in a strainer & into the kombu water
Strain the katsuobushi and voilĂ , dashi stock
Kohana-fu wheat croutons, wakame seaweed, & tub of miso paste
Add miso paste with a whisk and stir it in over medium heat, but don't boil
My miso taster, you have to taste it to see if you need more

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