Back in the day, Japanese food was exotic to most Americans, the kind of thing you could only find in New York or California or Hawaii. I remember sitting in front of the TV one night with my dad when I was a kid. The news was on, and some airbrushed newscaster was talking about this crazy-popular new restaurant in California—a place that served raw fish. My dad stared at the screen, stared at me, and said, “Who would eat bait?”
Well, these days, everybody eats “bait.” Teriyaki places and Japanese steakhouses dot strip malls across America; ramen noodles simmer in dorm-room microwaves everywhere; and you can buy sushi rolls in just about any suburban supermarket. Japanese cooking, in other words, is now officially a part of the American culinary landscape.
The flavors of this dish are what the Japanese call umami—dense, salty, rich, and complex, a little bit fishy in a good way—with a sharp kick from the pickled gin- ger. And it’s super-easy: from start to finish, it’ll take you about 20 minutes, all in. The key to this dish is dashi, a broth made with kombu and bonito flakes. It’s one of the fundamentals of Japanese cooking. If you can’t find furikake, just leave it out—or use toasted sesame seeds to get that furikake texture. You can eat this on its own as a brothy stew full of tofu and mushrooms, but it’s also great with a bowl of steamed rice.
SERVES 4 TO 6
- 2 sheets (about 1 ounce) kombu (Japanese dried seaweed)
- 1 pound fresh shiitake mushrooms 4 cups loosely packed bonito flakes 1/2 cup miso paste 1 pound medium or firm tofu, drained and cut into
- 1-inch chunks
- 3 green onions, sliced thin (about 1/2 cup) 4 to 6 tablespoons furikake (1 tablespoon per person; see Notes) 2 tablespoons pickled ginger, sliced
Lay the kombu out on a cutting board. Use a damp cloth to wipe off any grit (sand, tiny pebbles, and so forth) on both sides of each sheet.
Combine the kombu with 6 cups of water in a large saucepan, and place it over medium-high heat.
While the water is heating, clean the shiitakes, remove the stems, and quarter them.
Just before the water comes to a boil, use a pair of tongs to pull the kombu out of the pot and throw them away. (This is the most important direction in every single dashi recipe I’ve ever read. I’ve asked many Japa- nese cooks why it’s so important to pull the kombu out before the water boils, and nobody’s ever been able to tell me, but they all agree it’s crucial, and I believe them.)
Add the bonito flakes to the hot water and cook for about 1 minute, until the water is almost simmering again. Pull the pot off the heat and let the bonito flakes fall to the bottom. Steep the bonito flakes for 5 min- utes, until the flavors have infused the dashi.
Strain the liquid into a large bowl and toss the bonito flakes.
Return the dashi to the cooking pot and turn the heat to medium.
When the dashi comes up to a simmer, whisk in the miso, so that the liquid takes on that slightly broken-up look you see in miso soup in Japanese restaurants. The liquid should now be salty-tasting as well as bonito- flake-tasting.