I have already explained how important and essential dashi is to Japanese cooking in a previous blog post. The Quality of the one’s dashi will determine the quality of the Japanese dish; nevertheless, the number of people in Japan preparing dashi from scratch is declining.
The main reason is its the time it takes to prepare dashi especially when you are trying to make many other things at the same time. Not too long ago meals were a lot simpler, and they were purely traditional Japanese food all the time. So, making dashi was the big part of preparing meals, and dashi was used in many dishes in every meal. But nowadays because more variety of produce, more seasonings, and more ethnic styles of cooking have been introduced to the Japanese table, a preparation of a meal requires a lot more than making dashi. Also people’s lives have gotten busier in a last few decades especially for women as women choose to work and spend less time cooking meals at home. As a result people increasingly skip preparing dashi and use dashi powder instead.
To accommodate this new life style, more and more people have started using instant dashi powder, which is so convenient and less expensive compared to dashi using kombu and katsuobushi. The major brand of this kind of instant dashi is called Hondashi, meaning ironically “true dashi,” and produced by one of the largest seasoning companies, Ajinomoto. People had never paid attention to the ingredients nor the reason for the inexpensive cost until more recently when people started paying more attention to the quality of food including ingredients, sanitation, and manufacturing process. Then they realized that Hondashi contains MSG, and it doesn’t have as much nutrition as homemade dashi.
As the result of these more educated consumers, now there are a lot more options available for instant dashi powder, and many of them have no additives. Of course they are a lot more expensive, but this is partly a reflection of the better ingredients that are used. Some are still sold in powder, but most of the good ones today come in a tea bag style. You just need to add it to water and simmer. Then just discard the bag like making tea with a tea bag. How simple is that! So this is great news, but unfortunately it is not very easy to buy this kind of dashi here in the U.S. Probably you can get at Japanese specialty grocery stores but not necessarily in the ethnic sections of major supermarkets or at other Asian stores. This might change in the future, but right now this is the way it is.
I used to ask my mother to send me instant dashi bags from Japan, but it seemed a bit much to spend international postage just for that. Then one day I realized that what is in the bag was just ground dashi ingredients, and it was very simply to make. I grounded dried Shiitake mushroom, kombu, katuobushi, iriko (niboshi) in my Vitamix individually until it became fine powder. Then I just combined them in the proportion I liked. And the result? They worked fine just the way those good instant powders worked!
Some ingredients are harder to make into really fine powder, but I don’t think that is so important. If you don’t like the bits in your stock, just simply strain it to get rid of the bits. Now I don’t need to ask my mother for dashi bags any more. Instead I just make my own. I always have them in a glass jar, and use them not only for miso soup but also use as a seasoning for all kinds of dishes. I just add it to soup, simmered dish, fried rice, sautéed vegetables, and anything where I want to add some “umami” savory taste, and they taste better.
There is not really a recipe for this dashi powder, but for your reference I put the proportion I used for my instant dashi. So please modify according to your taste. As I mentioned to you in the dashi post, Japanese people use a lot more katsuobushi than American people. I think probably you would like less katsuobushi and more kombu than what I made. As you can see this is pretty simple to make. Now the only thing you need specially is a good grinder. A food processor won’t grind the ingredients fine enough. You need a spice mill, a coffee grinder or a special blender like a Vitamix.
Homemade Konodashi – Homemade Dashi Powder
- 3 portion of katsuodashi powder
- 2 portion of iriko powder
- 1 portion of dried Shiitake powder
- 1 portion of katsuobushi powder
- By using coffee grinder, spice mill or Vitamix, grind each ingredient until it becomes fine powder. Simply mix them in the proportion you like, and store it in a container for up to two months or keep it in a freezer for up to six months.
Basic all Purpose Dashi Stock w/ homemade dashi powder
Place 4 cups water and 2 tablespoons homemade dashi powder in a saucepan and heat over medium high heat. Cook until it boils, and simmer for a few minutes. *If you don’t want small bits from the dashi powder depending on the type of dish, strain it before using to prepare the dish.
Instant Miso Soup for one
In a soup bowl, put ½ teaspoon the dashi powder, one teaspoon miso, 1/2 cup boiling water, chopped scallions, and wakame (dried seaweed), and mix well.
Use the dashi as a seasoning for soups, sautéing, marinating or anything that needs umami.