Kombu Dashi

MAKES: about 2 quarts

TIME: 15 minutes

Dashi is the building block of Japanese cuisine and usually flavored with dried bonito (a tunalike fish). But this variation is just as traditional. It may have roots in Japan’s Buddhist vegetarian tradition, but I think it’s far more likely that home cooks in Japan know that any stock is better than no stock, and if you didn’t have dried tuna around, or didn’t have the money to buy it, this was the next best thing.

I add ginger to my kombu dashi because I usually have it handy and it adds a nice secondary flavor. Feel free to omit it.

1 piece dried kelp (kombu), 4 to 6 inches long

2 or 3 nickel-sized slices ginger (don’t bother to peel)

01 Combine the kelp, ginger, and 2 quarts water in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Do not allow the mixture to come to a boil; as soon as it is about to, turn off the heat and remove the kelp. (You can use it as a vegetable at this point; see The Sea Green Lexicon for some ideas).

02 Let the ginger sit in the stock for a couple of minutes as it cools, then strain. Use the dashi immediately or refrigerate for up to 2 days.

Variation

No-Cook Dashi. Many Japanese cooks believe this to be a superior version (and it saves you time), but it requires some advance planning: Immerse the dried kelp in 2 quarts of cold water in a bowl on your way out the door in the morning. It will infuse the water with its flavor in 6 to 8 hours. Strain and use as you would cooked dashi.

8 Simple Additions to Any Stock

Stock can be made more complex by the addition of any of these ingredients. Be careful not to add so many, however, that the flavor becomes muddied.

  1. A whole head of garlic, left intact, will lend a distinctive but mellow flavor.
  2. A 3- or 4-inch piece of seaweed, especially kelp or arame, will give a pleasant brininess (see Kombu Dashi, left). Do not boil the stock after adding the seaweed; just heat gently for 10 minutes or so.
  3. Just about any vegetable, or the trimmings of any vegetable, will add flavor. You are almost always safe with members of the onion family (including their peels and other trimmings), tomatoes, and the milder, sweeter root vegetables. But beware that some vegetables will add unwanted flavors (do you want your stock to taste like broccoli?) and others will change the color. Be cautious: the stockpot is not a garbage can.
  4. Stems of light herbs like parsley, dill, or chervil, or small amounts of other herbs, like thyme or tarragon, will add brightness and depth.
  5. White wine will add acid, fruit, and complexity.
  6. Whole spices, fresh or dried, like ginger, galangal, juniper berries, allspice, cloves, and so on, will surely add character. But use judiciously.
  7. Any mushrooms, including dried porcini, again in small to moderate quantities, will add a distinctive but almost always welcome flavor. Also good are the stems of shiitakes, which are too tough to eat but add flavor to stocks.
  8. Soy sauce performs wonders. A tablespoon or more in almost any stock will make you think you are brilliant.