Please review my earlier post about making miso soup, if you haven’t already.
Then go to Wikipedia and take a look at the page on Umami. You don’t really have to read it carefully. Don’t need all that history and science to cook. But it is important that you are aware of umami and that you know where it comes from if you want to cook anything Japanese.
Level 5 (still easy, but there is an extra step)
This time we’ll make the soup with dashi, the Japanese soup stock. Since we’ve bought katsuobushi already in Level 3, that’s what we’ll use. Boil some water, put a handful of katsuobushi into the pot, and turn off the heat immediately. Let the pot sit for 5 minutes or so. This is a lot more bonito flakes and a lot more time for the flavors to steep into the water than in Level 3. Your nose will capture a distinctly Japanese smell.
You can leave the katsuobushi in the soup, but most Japanese prefer to strain it out because of the mouthfeel. Pass the broth through a strainer, or scoop up the flakes with a net strainer with a handle, or let the flakes sink to the bottom of the pot and only use the broth. We are not using the spent flakes. There is still a lot of flavor left in the flakes and many things can be done with it, but for now, let’s just toss it.
Follow the steps in Level 2 but use this broth instead of the water. The resulting miso soup will have a distinctly Japanese taste to it. Happiness!
Level 6 (still easy, kombu exploration)
Now that you are beginning to understand how both important and optional dashi in miso soup is, we’ll explore other traditional dashi. Kombu seaweed is an easy one. This kelp is the original and natural MSG. Please scan the page on kombu in Wikipedia and come back.
To buy it, if your local supermarket doesn’t have it, go find it in Chinese stores, Korean stores and health food stores in addition to Japanese stores. If that doesn’t work, there’s always Amazon. You will notice that there’s a wide range to choose from. For now it doesn’t matter which one. Just get something.
Break or cut a piece off if the kombu is long. You will need about a 3 inch piece to flavor a small pot of soup for 2 people. Make sure there’s no sand clinging to it, but do not wash it. Put it in the pot, add enough water to make soup, then walk away. No need to turn on the stove. Come back in about 12 hours. Fish out the kombu. You now have kombu dashi.
To speed up the process, boil the water, turn off heat, then put in the piece of kombu. Walk away. It’s probably ready in 15 minutes. Take out the kombu.
I keep the spent pieces in the freezer and use them for some other dish but we won’t do that now. It breaks my heart to say this, but for now, discard the kombu.
Follow the instructions for Level 3, using this kombu dashi as the base. When your soup is made, taste the soup before you sprinkle in the katsuobushi flakes. Sprinkle, taste again. Kombu dashi was very good, but with the bonito it was great, wasn’t it? That’s the power of combined umami.
From now on, use the instructions for Level 5, but put both the katsuobushi and kombu in the pot to make the broth. You can use more or less bonito flakes and kelp to adjust the strength to your liking, and in time you might want to explore other katsuobushi and kombu varieties.
Congratulations, this is your properly prepared miso soup with real dashi . No need to buy MSG laden, highly processed and chemically enhanced dashi granules ever again!
I am not done writing about miso soup making yet. Please read on, but only if you are curious. Your soup is already awesome and fully authentic.
Next step, Level 7.