On Dashi

My earliest conscious memory of dashi was in a clear soup ‘suimono’ I used to drink as a boy at a Japanese restaurant in Alpine, NJ (I think it was called ‘Shinwa’) back in the 70’s. There was that ‘je ne sais quoi’ that made me want to have additional bowls of it with the meal.  I thought it far superior to the traditional miso soup one got with Japanese meals.  For many years, I always wondered how it was made. When I finally found recipes of how to traditionally make dashi, the result of making those dashi recipes left me somewhat unsatisfied.

A number of years (and college) later, I came across the FujiTV Iron Chef program that used to be aired on the NYC/NJ UHF stations that would carry Japanese programming. I watched in amazement how these chefs would create gourmet dishes in the space of an hour.   As far as I can recall, the first of the Iron Chef’s I watched was the 3rd Japanese Iron Chef, Masaharu Morimoto. Eventually I got a chance to watch episodes of the show featuring Rokusaburo Michiba.

There were two things that got my attention when Michiba was competing. One, he would almost always make a dish that anyone could do at home (for which I will always be in admiration). Two, I was amazed at how he would make dashi – the fundamental Japanese soup stock during the battle – especially the prodigious amount of dried bonito shavings (katsuobushi). As it would turn out, Morimoto himself would apparently use the same method as Michiba during the show.

It wouldn’t be until May 27, 2003 that someone would post an English translation of Michiba’s dashi recipe at:

http://groups.google.com/group/alt.tv.iron-chef/browse_thread/thread/7fbc36ab5ae311cc/b124939cce90bfa4?lnk=gst&q=broth+of+vigor#b124939cce90bfa4

I had the opportunity to talk with Morimoto when he did a demonstration/talk at Boston University on 10 Oct 2007.  At that time, I had a conversation with him regarding the way he made dashi on Iron Chef Japan. I asked him about the difference in the dashi recipe in his book “The New Art Of Japanese Cooking”, particularly regarding the amount of katsuobushi used.  Suffice it to say, he chuckled and told me – “That’s your homework – try both and see which one you like”.

So off I went to figure out what dashi recipe I liked the best (especially in its application).
I compared 5 dashi recipes Morimoto, Nobu, Nishino, Murata, Michiba and Nishino.

Here’s the “Normalized” dashi comparisons –

…………………Morimoto……………………………Nobu………….Nishino
Konbu………..10g (4″x6″)…………………………..10g…………….10g (1.5″x1.5″)
Katsuobushi..1/2c (loosely packed)5-6.25g*……..30g…………….50g
Water…………4c (4x200ml) ……………………….5c (5x200ml).. 4c (4x200ml)

……………….Murata…………Michiba
Konbu……….15g……………..10g
Katsuobushi..25g……………..40g
Water………..4.5c (900ml)….4.5c (900ml)

* I measured this out and then weighed it on my Salter food scale

As it would turn out, I actually liked the Michiba version the best. One note I should make – I did try the modification by Murata-san about simmering the konbu in Poland Spring water for an hour at 140 deg F (I used a cooking themometer to check throughout the cooking).  It did seem to make a difference.

The interesting note regarding the modifications: Hitoshi Aita, sous chef@Morimoto NY prepared a $300 omakase for myself and my SO on 21 Dec 2009.

 

chef hitoshi aita - our omakase chef on 21 Dec 2009 @ morimoto nyc

Morimoto was unavailable to cook because he had broken his wrist in a hottub accident earlier that fall (see: http://www.people.com/people/article/0,,20397486,00.html).

Anyway, I asked Aita-san about the way they prepared dashi at the restaurant and he confirmed (1) yes, they really do use the huge amount of katsuobushi like Morimoto used in his Iron Chef Japan battles and (2) they do use the same rishiri-konbu as in Michiba’s preparation [oh – and by the way,  so does Murata].

As for the dashi applications, I used the Michiba dashi recipe in:

* Nobu’s Mushroom Buckwheat ‘Risotto’
* Nobu’s Chawanmushi
* Shizuo Tsuji’s suimono
* Morimoto’s “Sweetfish & Rice’ (substituting red snapper for sweetfish)

As for kombu – when I started to use the dashi for various recipes – rishiri kombu was hard to obtain.  Over the last 2 or three years, Mitsuwa NJ now sells it; and I buy a large quantity of it during visits with my parents in NJ.

In any event, given everyday time constraints, I prefer to use the Michiba method. If I’m doing a very special meal, that’s when I’d use the Murata procedure.

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