Soba Dashi

Bemoaning my lack of familiarity cooking with seaweed to Chef Curtis Di Fede of Napa’s Miminashi, he assured me it was a pantry item I’d soon be reaching for to flavor everything.

Surely, he’d know. A native of Napa and a graduate of both the London and Paris campuses of Le Cordon Bleu culinary school, Chef Di Fede has worked with some of the most talented chefs in the world. He opened the highly acclaimed Italian-inspired restaurant Oenotri before opening the nearby Miminashi, which focuses on ramen and yakitori.

Japan was long a source of fascination and inspiration for Chef Di Fede, from his days as a culinary extern at London’s Wagamama, to his time working with Chef Hiro Sone at Terra in St. Helena, to his culinary tours of the island.

“The first time I went to Japan, I fell in love with the country and the cuisine,” he said. “Even during the years I spent focused on Italian cuisine, Japan was always in the back of my mind and I began to see this common ground between the two countries: a dedication to purity and simplicity.”

His kitchen crew make their own pickles, kimchi and broths, and smoke fish and meat over a wood hearth. But it is actually his cred as a Northern California boy who fishes, dives for abalone and forages for other seafood and seaweed that impresses me most.

Understanding that seaweed recipes were not part of my repertoire, but that I wanted to do justice to the bounty we’d hand collected, Chef Di Fede suggested using our dried kombu to make dashi, a broth made with seaweed or bonito, and used as the base for miso soup, clear and noodle soups, and many kinds of simmering liquids. Dashi is perfect by itself as a warming breakfast, energizing lunch or light supper.

Chef Di Fede began by lightly smoking several pieces of the dried seaweed that had been reconstituted. The smoking can be done at home by hanging the reconstituted kombu over the coals in a fireplace or smoker for a couple of hours. If the time or tools are unavailable, using reconstituted dried kombu as is also works brilliantly.

The chef emphasized cooking with the very best ingredients available, which includes using filtered water to make the broth.

By | February 21, 2018

Ingredients

  • 1 gallon filtered water
  • 2 ounces dried kombu
  • 1–2 tablespoons of mirin (a Japanese sweet rice wine)
  • 1–2 tablespoons of soy sauce (90% soy, 10% wheat)
  • 1 bundle of soba noodles per person
  • 1 Daikon radish
  • 1 bunch Tokyo Negi onion, green parts chopped into wisps. (This perennial allium, native to Siberia and Northwestern China, is grown widely in Japan. If it is not available in your local Asian market, chopped scallion is a fine substitute.)
  • Spice, to test either lchimi (ground red chilli pepper); or shichi-mi tōgarashi (a premixed blend of red chili pepper, Sansho Japanese pepper, roasted orange peel, black sesame seed, white sesame seed, hemp seed, ground ginger,
  • ground nori seaweed and poppy seed); or Sancho Japanese green peppercorn leaf powder

Preparation

Bring the filtered water to boil, then turn off the heat. Add the dried kombu, allowing it to steep for 20 minutes. Take care not to boil the seaweed, as it is fragile and will fall apart, losing valuable nutrients.

Strain the broth through a fine-mesh sieve, setting aside the seaweed. Taste the broth. The pale blush of green is bright and vibrant, with a gentle nod to a mermaid.

Add 1–2 tablespoons each of mirin (for sweetness) and soy sauce (for depth). Taste and adjust seasoning accordingly. Cool the broth.

Bring a pot of tap water to boil and cook soba noodles 4–5 minutes. Immediately cool noodles in an ice bath.

Pluck the cooled soba noodles with 3 fingers, making a small nest and placing it in the center of each bowl. A secret known by Japanese chefs, these little nests create the perfect mouthful.

Fill the bowls with the cooled broth. (Note: The broth can be served warm with the noodles, but the noodles must always be cooled first or they will stick together.)

On a ginger grater, microplane or Saikai Japanese copper grater, shave the daikon radish over each soup bowl. Scatter finely chopped Tokyo Negi onion or scallion onto the soup and finish with a sprinkle of spice.

Slurp the soup, not just as a compliment to the chef but to aerate it to taste every bit of its umami and ocean nuance.

The kombu can be cut into small strips and eaten with the soup, or can be redried (and re-smoked) to be used again in a niban dashi, or second dashi. But the ichi dashi, or first dashi, is the ichi ban, or best.

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Ingredients

  • 1 gallon filtered water
  • 2 ounces dried kombu
  • 1–2 tablespoons of mirin (a Japanese sweet rice wine)
  • 1–2 tablespoons of soy sauce (90% soy, 10% wheat)
  • 1 bundle of soba noodles per person
  • 1 Daikon radish
  • 1 bunch Tokyo Negi onion, green parts chopped into wisps. (This perennial allium, native to Siberia and Northwestern China, is grown widely in Japan. If it is not available in your local Asian market, chopped scallion is a fine substitute.)
  • Spice, to test either lchimi (ground red chilli pepper); or shichi-mi tōgarashi (a premixed blend of red chili pepper, Sansho Japanese pepper, roasted orange peel, black sesame seed, white sesame seed, hemp seed, ground ginger,
  • ground nori seaweed and poppy seed); or Sancho Japanese green peppercorn leaf powder
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