Kombu (kelp) and Katsuobushi (dried bonito shavings) are the building blocks for dashi.
Until recently, I didn't really know what dashi was. I had heard of it, but the idea of making my own was far from my mind. Then I discovered the first season of the PBS series The Mind of a Chef, which followed around David Chang (of Momofuku fame) and featured his obsession with the stuff. Why? Because he was obsessed with ramen, and dashi is the clear broth that is a foundation of Japanese cuisine. From ramen broth and miso soup, to sauces and long simmered dishes, dashi is an umami fundamental that I knew I needed to learn to make in my home kitchen.
Fortunately, dashi is crazy easy to make. It's so simple, it honestly makes me wonder why I took so long to make it in the first place. The only trick is finding the ingredients, which are foreign sounding but getting increasingly more common at Whole Foods or specialty markets. Any well stocked Asian grocery market will have both. The kombu is basically dried sea kelp, it has a salty herbaceous smell that I loved the moment I first opened. The katsuobushi is dried shaved fish flakes. What's amazing about dashi is that it is so very light, but has depth of flavor and umami that is hard to compare. It's why dashi is the backbone for so many different recipes.
Kombu and Katsuobush steeping
Basic Dashi Recipe
4 cups water
1 piece of kombu, rinsed
1 packet of katsuobushi
Place the water in a pot, add the kombu, turn the heat to high and bring to a boil. As soon as the water is boiling, pull the pot off the heat, add the katsuobushi, stir, and let the mixture steep like tea for 10 minutes. After the 10 minutes, strain. Dashi is done. You can either use it then or store in your fridge for a couple of days.
In David Chang's Momofuku cookbook, he shares the bacon dashi recipe that is used throughout the Momofuku family. I tried making bacon dashi and love it as well. In simplest terms, you simply replace the little packet of katsuobushi for two thick slices of smoky bacon. If you actually make it though, the bacon takes longer to infuse, and cooking the kombu too long will turn it bitter, so the easiest substitution is to steep the kombu for 10 minutes, then remove the kombu and add the bacon and let simmer for 30-45 minutes. Strain and serve, its delicious.