Said to be the backbone of Japanese cuisine, Bonito Flakes or "katsuobushi" come from smoked Skipjack Tuna which has been cut in half and then dried until it becomes like a piece of driftwood. It is then shaved into thin flakes to be used as the base for Japanese soup stock. This creates the basic and essential flavor of Japanese cooking. Our Mitoku Bonito is naturally-cured for about 6 months. Large Bonito Flakes are ideal for making "dashi" or Japanese soup stock. The small flakes make a rich stock for noodles or miso soup or can be used to sprinkle atop dishes such as hiyayakko, a popular cold-tofu dish or for adding extra flavor to Japanese nabe (pot) dishes. Known as the "Flavor of Japan," Bonito is an ingredient Japanese cooks wouldn't dare be without.
The bonito, a member of the mackeral family of fish, has been a mainstay in the Japanese diet for centuries. Once bonito's ability to preserve well was discovered in the fifteenth century, it became highly treasured by samurai warriors as a field ration.
To make dried bonito (katsuobushi), the fish are filleted and cut lengthwise into quarters. After being steamed, sun-dried, and wood-smoked several times until they are thoroughly dried, the fillets are placed outdoors on racks for about three months to ferment. This ancient method, which uses natural fermentation to increase bonito's nutritional values is still used today.
Once fully mature, the dried fillets will maintain their quality almost indefinitely if kept cool and dry. The bonito fillets are shaved into flakes on a katsuo kezuri-ki (bonito shaver) just before use. Bonito flakes also come prepackaged in small, convenient cellophane envelopes that preserve their freshness well. These "single serving" packets of shaved bonito are much preferred over large bags or boxes, in which the flakes rapidly lose their flavor and quality.
Bonito is valuable whenever a mild fish flavor is appropriate. It is most commonly used along with kombu sea vegetable in making a flavorful stock for various types of soups and noodle broths and for simmered root vegetable dishes. Following is a recipe for Kombu-Bonito Stock (Dashi). Once the stock is prepared, other ingredients, such as miso or shoyu and mirin are added to create a variety of different tastes.
6-inch piece Mitoku kombu
1/4 cups cold water
1/4 cup Mitoku bonito flakes
Place kombu and water in a saucepan and bring to a simmer, uncovered, over medium heat. After simmering briefly, remove kombu and reserve it for another use. (It may be reused to make soup stock or cooked with beans or vegetables.) Stir bonito flakes into stock, then remove pan from heat and let sit for 2 minutes. Strain the broth, pressing liquid from the flakes with the back of a spoon.