Before I can move into the realm of Japanese noodles, I have to lay the foundation for them by offering up (and hence, explaining) the soup in which they can be served.
The Japanese use dashi as the base for different types of soup much like folks in the Western world use chicken, beef, or vegetable stock. As Wikipedia notes: “Dashi forms the base for miso soups, clear broth soups, Japanese noodle broths, and many Japanese simmering liquids.” Without dashi, the soups named above would be something else.
A typical dashi uses kelp and bonito flakes, but other dashis (and there are several varieties out there) can use dried sardines or mushrooms.
What are bonito flakes you ask? Dried tuna shavings is the short answer, and I have to admit to being a tad bit taken aback in their use. But I overcame my cultural filter fairly quickly and used them with little problem. When people state that Miso soup is not vegetarian, it is the bonito flakes that they are referring to.
Both kelp (called konbu) and bonito flakes (hana-katsuo) can be found in any friendly neighborhood market that serves the Asian population. However, many instant varities of dashi are out there. But as I made my own (and have the kelp smell in my kitchen to prove it), I cannot speak to their quality.
I have no picture of the Dashi. You can presume one of two things. A) Pictures of clear broth is as interesting as a photograph of a plain white wall. or B) I forgot to take a picture before using the dashi in something else of which I did take a photo.
This recipe comes from the book Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art by Shizuo Tsuji.
- 1 qt. cold water (plus an additional 1/4 cup)
- 1 oz. dried kelp
- 1 oz. bonito flakes
Place the cold water and the kelp in your soup pan. Heat the water, uncovered, to 200-210 degrees F. (The book suggests cooking the kelp in heated water close to, but not, water’s boiling point). Cook the kelp until you can break the fleshiest part of the kelp with your thumbnail. This should take between 10-12 minutes.
Remove the kelp, and pour in the additional 1/4 cup of water. Immediately add the bonito flakes. Allow the stock to return to a full boil. Once full boil is obtained, remove the stock from heat immediately. Allow the flakes to settle on the bottom of the soup pan. Filter off any foam, and then strain the flakes out of the stock.
NOTE: If you want to make a dashi called Niban Dashi, save the used bonito flakes and kelp.
Serves 6, but really, use it as stock for other dishes