Katsuobushi (鰹節) is the most common ingredient for Japanese broth or dashi. It contains the umami element called inosinic acid. The acid makes for a rich umami flavor and is also found in other fish, meat, shrimp, etc.
According to my dictionaries, katsuo (鰹) means bonito or skipjack tuna. In this case, Bushi (節) means something like a chunk, although this kanji has many meanings. It seems that katsuobushi (鰹節) is known as “dried bonito” among people who like Japanese cooking. To be precise, it is boiled, smoked, dried and fermented katsuo fillet.
Nowadays, the majority of people use instant dashi products such as powder, liquid, or dashi-bags. Some of them have nice flavors and they’re very convenient. However, it’s absolutely different from the dashi made from the freshly shaved Katsuobushi. I’m going to introduce some types of Katsuobushi in case you are interested in them.
Filleted Katsuo is boiled then dried while being smoked. This is called Arabushi.
You won’t find Arabushi on the market because it’s mostly used for making pre-packed katsuo flakes.
Hanakatsuo is used for making Japanese broth or dashi. It can also be used as toppings. It tastes good but the aroma is weaker than the aroma of karebushi which I’ll introduce below.
After the process of making Arabushi, the Katsuobushi is coated with mold and then dried again to be more fermented. This is called Karebushi. Since Karebushi has a mature and rich flavor, it’s used for making dashi by everyone from chefs at fancy restaurants to amateur cooking enthusiasts.
Here is a picture of some Karebushi. I usually get mine delivered from a shop specializing in ingredients for dashi in the Tsukiji market.
Each Katsuobushi is classified into two types based on the weight of katsuo. The Katsuobushi made from over 2.5 kg (about 5.5 lbs) of katsuo is called Honbushi.
It’s also divided into two parts, the back and the belly. The back part is called Sebushi and the belly part is called Harabushi. Sebushi makes for a light and low-fat broth. Harabushi makes for a slightly fatty and rich broth.
Katsuobushi made from less than 2.5 kg (about 5.5 lbs) of katsuo is called Kamebushi. It’s not divided into the two parts like a Honbushi. Since Kamebushi is small, it’s easy to handle. Although Kamebushi is smaller than Honbushi, the flavor is just as good as Honbushi.
All types of Katsuobushi are shaved on a Katsuobushi plane which looks like a blade with a special box.
This makes thin flakes which can bring out the umami flavor faster.
Now, most Japanese families don’t use this traditional method because it’s a time-consuming process. I’ve heard that even authentic restaurants use shaving machines instead of this box. However, this way of making Katsuobushi flakes is still popular among cooking enthusiasts who are particular about dashi. It also makes us nostalgic for our childhood.
I found an amazing video on Youtube where you can see the whole process of making Katsuobushi.
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