It is said that absence makes the heart grow fonder, and after being away from our garden and kitchen for almost 10 days, we can say that we are very happy to be back. What happened? We were trapped in Canada…seriously. Flooding in the Canadian Rockies trapped us in Banff for a few days. We were on a very lovely tour with family (thanks again!) and one very big night of rain washed out the roads in all directions. Happily Banff is something of a gilded cage, but we still couldn’t cook. And we start to get a bit twitchy when we can’t cook.
It turns out that usually when we travel, we still cook- we have access to kitchens when we are in Long Island, Hawaii or even the Low Country (you could argue that access to good ingredients heavily influences our travel destinations). But on this trip we were out of luck, 10 days is the longest we have gone without cooking or baking in years (decades?). But when we can’t cook we read about cooking, so I pulled out “Cooked” by Michael Pollan and dove in.
Overall it is a good book, but since we grow our own food and cook it ourselves for family, many of Pollan’s insights weren’t surprising. But like most people, we love to listen to folks who agree with us, so it was a pleasant read . In “Cooked”, Pollan gets into barbecue, braising, baking and brewing/fermenting. We are active participants in the first three, and like drinking other people’s beer (mixing is our thing, but a good beer is always welcome here at the farm). But of all the cooking in the book, one thing stood out, Pollan was making his own dashi, and we weren’t. Shameful, and something we decided to fix immediately upon our return.
If you are unfamiliar with dashi, it is one of the foundations of Japanese cooking. Dashi is a simple combination of water, konbu (seaweed) and Katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes) and sometimes dried shiitake mushrooms. Dashi is a broth, but it’s really an umami-bomb (glutamates galore) that is just waiting to make stuff taste good. Dashi is a bit wan on its own, but add a little flavor like miso (dashi and miso make miso soup), soy or simply salt and it comes alive. Oh, and it is dead simple to make.
So we decided to make dashi and then find a recipe to play with. We immediately went to Nancy Singleton Hachisu’s book “Japanese Farm Food” to look for ideas. We found a recipe for Yellowtail Sashimi on Hot Rice with Broth, a simple combination of plain rice, sashimi and a broth of dashi and salt with a garnish of Julienned nori and chives. We adapted the recipe to use sushi rice, our local salmon and a bit of hot pepper and/or Togarashi to add some kick. The recipe suggests that you can use most sashimi-grade fish for this dish, but if good raw fish unavailable or isn’t your thing, the recipe will still be good with lightly cooked white fish or even lightly smoked salmon.
So how does the dish taste? Quite simply, it rocks. When your kids say “dad this is one of your best dishes ever”, that says it all. Very simple ingredients, but big, complimentary flavors and textures. The dashi with just a touch of salt packs deep savory flavor, the sushi rice adds tang, the fish is rich and slightly fatty and the garnishes and spice add herbal and spicy notes. Lovely from beginning to end. A revelation. So I guess we should be grateful for our extra time in Canada and our time away from the kitchen…go figure.
(Adapted from nancy Singleton Hachisu)
Notes Before You Start:
- You can use salmon, yellowtail or sea bass sashimi in this dish but lightly smoked salmon or thin pieces of slightly cooked white fish like halibut or snapper will also work.
- When making dashi, don’t let the water around the konbu come to a boil, it will make your dashi bitter.
- You can season your dashi with soy, instead of salt, for bigger flavor. We like the cleaner flavor of salt here (but soy is good).
- Some dashi recipes suggest adding dried shiitake mushrooms to the broth after straining. We figured that we should get as many glutamates into our dashi as possible, so we use the mushrooms. Your choice.
(serves 2-3 as a light main dish, 4 as a starter)
- 1, 6-inch piece of konbu
- 1 big handful of katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes)
- 2 cups cold water
- 1-2 dried shiitake mushrooms (optional)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups sushi rice or plain short-grained rice (here is a good recipe)
- 3/4 pound sashimi-grade salmon
- 4 teaspoons chopped chives or scallions
- 1/4 sheet nori, julienned
- Togarashi, sliced serrano peppers or a few drops of Sriracha (optional)
- For the dashi, add the 2 cups of water to a medium saucepan and then add the konbu. Place the saucepan over medium heat and bring almost to a boil. Remove the konbu when small bubbles form along its edges and before the water boils. Add the katsuobushi to the liquid and simmer briskly for 8 minutes, then remove from the heat and allow to steep for another 8 minutes. Using a fine mesh strainer, strain the broth into a large bowl, push on the katsuobushi to get as much liquid as you can (you want 1 and 1/3 cups, if you are short add hot water). Add the dried shiitake to the broth (if you like) and then add the salt. Taste and adjust salt, if needed. Keep the dashi hot while you assemble the rest of the dish.
- Meanwhile, slice your fish, across the grain into equal portions for service. Chop your scallions and julienne your nori.
- Place hot rice into bowls, add the sliced fish onto the rice and garnish with the chives and nori. Pour the hot dashi on top and then add Togarashi or sliced chiles, if you like. Serve immediately.