Through my involvement with the Society for Culinary Arts and Letters, I’ve been lucky enough to get access to a review copy of Modernist Cuisine, the 2,400-page, 6-volume tour de force cookbook by Nathan Myhrvold and his team that’s being released next month.
For my first foray into cooking from the book, I decided to make hon-dashi. I’ve written about dashi before, but this recipe is different from my usual technique in a couple of ways. First, it involves vacuum-sealing the kombu and water and cooking it with an immersion circulator for 1 hour, then chilling in the fridge. Then, after it’s chilled, it gets drained off the kombu and heated in a pot, and the bonito flakes are added.
The final broth was intensely smoky and umami. (My sister commented that it reminded her of lapsang souchong tea.) In part, I suspect the intensity comes from the quantity of raw materials used: this recipe calls for nearly twice the kombu and bonito flakes as I usually use. To my mind, this makes it a special-occasion dashi, best used for soups or broth-based noodle dishes, where the flavour of the dashi is of paramount importance. I’ll probably continue with my traditional ratios for everyday dashi. At the same time, heating the kombu sous vide is much easier than trying to maintain the temperature on the stovetop for an hour, and the chilling step is completely absent from my usual approach. I’d be curious to taste the broth after the kombu is infused but before the bonito flakes are added. I’m also more eager than ever to track down some higher-quality kombu and bonito flakes!
One thing I was surprised by, however, was the absence of any commentary on the quality of the water used for dashi. I’ve read that soft water is imperative for extracting glutamates from the kombu, but no specific mention is made of this in the recipe, although information on water quality – including a recommendation to avoid using hard water for cooking – is given elsewhere in the book. I will continue to use bottled water for dashi, because I find it makes a better-tasting product.
Even this first, simple preparation from Modernist Cuisine gave me a lot to think about. I’m eagerly looking forward to trying some of the more involved recipes!