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Japan is a land rich in water, not only because it is an island, but also in the internal territory there are innumerable sources of crystalline water. It’s an asset to which they give great importance, not only because it is the basis of human life, but because it is the basis of everything. Water raises rice, vegetables, fish live in the sea, which are another important part of their diet. For this reason it is not surprising that at the base of the Japanese cuisine there is a broth, in other words the Dashi broth.
The Dashi だしis THE mainstay of Japanese cuisine. It is an ingredient used for the preparation of many dishes based on fish, meat and vegetables. His taste is unmistakable and is what is called Umami, but let’s see what it is.
What is Dashi: The Discovery of the Umami
In the past, the recognized basic tastes that were perceived were four, or five according to theories: Sweet, Salty, Bitter and Acid, the fifth is identified with the Spicy. In 1908 the chemistry professor Kikunae Ikeda managed to isolate the Umami (literally good taste). The component responsible for this new flavor was identified by the professor in the Monosodium Glutamate. It’s the Sodium Salt of Glutamic Acid, one of the 23 natural amino acids that make up proteins, is present in parmesan, seaweed, fish, milk, mushrooms, and many other marine and agricultural ingredients. Under the microscope they appear as small white crystals. The Monosodium Glutamate is also sold in bags, is a flavor enhancer very daring in Chinese cuisine.
Types of Dashi Recipes
Dashi stock is prepared with some ingredients all previously dried to obtain an intense Umami. The ingredients were dried for transport reasons in the past, but once consumed, the Japanese realized that they also tasted better. Each ingredient in its own way compose the Umami, based on the type of amino acid it contains. It is prepared with a single ingredient, or with the combination of any of them, and each has different characteristics and uses that depend on the region or the family’s habits.
- Kombu Dashi: is the basic broth, is the ingredient present in every combination, containing one of the two main acids that create Umami, the Glutamic Acid. It is a clear, with a delicate and clean taste. Used in fish dishes, as a base for light broths and for soups.
- Katsuobushi Dashi: another basic stock. This ingredient instead contains Inosinic Acid. The broth produced with this ingredient is intense, with a robust and smoky taste. Used for chicken dishes, stewed vegetables or to prepare a dish called Nikuyaga (sort of meat and potato stew);
- Kombu + Shiitake: delicate broth used especially in vegetarian / vegan, used in the dishes of Shojin Cuisine, practiced by Buddhist monks. Delicate and aromatic broth;
- Kombu + Niboshi: More tasty broth is intense but not like Katsuobushi. Very used;
- Kombu + Katsuobushi: rich combination of Umami since they are the main ingredients that contain acids that constitute it. Used for various recipes of meat, chicken, and vegetables. Most popular and appreciated combination;
- Kombu + Katsuobushi + Niboshi: rich and intense broth also used for different dishes;
There is also another version prepared in the Kioto region using Maguro-Bushi, or half Maguro Dashi and half Katsuo Dashi. The Maguro-Bushi is nothing but the same preparation of Katsuo, but using the Yellow Fin Tuna, considered more valuable.
His Own Story
The first writings that speak of this broth date back to the eighth century. Initially it was prepared by boiling various vegetables, mushrooms and fish based on the resources of each region. Kioto is a region surrounded by a valley, where the consumption of fish was practically impossible given the difficulty in finding it. As for the Edo period, the Katsuobushi took off quickly, because being dried it was easier to transport it even to the most distant areas from the sea.
For classic broths for ramen, for example, but also for ours, the cooking times require a long boiling, they must boil for hours to obtain an intense and full-bodied flavor. The Dashi broth instead prepares itself in a short time, unlike the preparation behind its ingredients.
Use is the most varied, as a base for soups, stews, ramen and accompanying sauces. It is the most loved and familiar taste to the Japanese, so much so as to create a very intense and concentrated instant dashi powder, nothing compared to our instant broths, the quantity to use is really small. There is also an equally concentrated liquid version.
Picture of japancentre.com