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Jun 14, 2012 11:27 PM

Does miso soup need katsuobushi?

I've been on a miso-soup making tear recently after figuring out just how easy it is. I don't have a convenient source for katsuobushi flakes though, so I've been doing without. Here's what I do: Boil water, add dried seaweed sheets, and simmer about 20 minutes. Remove seaweed, whisk in white miso, add silken tofu and whatever fish I have on hand, and simmer for 10 more minutes. Finish with a scoop of scallions and a dash of rice vinegar. I'm pretty pleased with the results I get but what I don't know is if I'm missing much by leaving out the katsuobushi. Is it worth it to track this stuff down?


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  1. It's definitely worth it, katsuobushi is essential to a well-flavored dashi; I wouldn't call what you've been making miso soup as in classic misoshiro, delicious as it may be. Dashi is simply water, kombu and katsuobushi, though it can be made vegetarian by swapping out katsuobushi for dried shitake mushrooms. Unless one follows a vegetarian diet, katsuobushi is a requirement in dashi, IMO. And FYI, misoshiro doesn't require all the simmering time as what you're making, so you may find following the classic instructions for misoshiro to be even quicker and easier. Google miso soup to find out all you need to know about miso soup.

    2 Replies
    1. re: janniecooks

      You should not simmer the miso, as it looses it's flavor according to many of the authentic Japanese recipes. There's a very simple process of dissolving the miso properly using a strainer.

      1. re: foodlovergeneral

        Apparently simmering miso is a topic of debate. The method in Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art does involve simmering. Tepid dashi is whisked with the miso and returned to the pot. Optionally it may be strained. The soup is heated on a medium burner and tofu and mushrooms are added, and simmered until "just before the boiling point".

    2. I'm sure what you made is tasty but I personally would not call it "miso soup".

      The katsuobushi does make the dashi. Also, when I make miso soup I stir in the miso at the end (not in the middle) and take it off the heat before it comes back to a simmer. P.s. Use the good grades of miso from Japan for this...

      1. Not what you're asking for but maybe useful. My local oriental-owned produce store carries Miko Brand Dashi Miso, a Japanese-made paste for making miso soup. Add 1 tablespoon to one cup of boiling water, and when it dissolves, there you are. If you have some wakame and tofu to add, all the better, but it's delicious without them.

        3 Replies
        1. re: John Francis

          Dashi miso probably has some sort of fish or other flavoring extract - it's kind of like combining regular miso with hon-dashi broth granules.

          1. re: MikeG

            The ingredients list: water, soybean, rice, salt, bonito extract, kelp extract, monosodium glutamate, alcohol to preserve freshness, riboflavin. M-m-m good! (It is, actually.)

            1. re: John Francis

              That's what I thought. No worse, maybe better, than using the dried hon-dashi granules to make soup. My point was only that most Japanese associate miso soup with the flavor of bonito/katsuo so that while yes, you can make the soup without it, on the other hand, no, it won't be the same thing most people think of when they think "miso soup."

              Whether to use dried fish flakes - fresh or packaged, granules, or flavored-miso is a another story, all will get you a similar general flavor...

        2. Thanks guys, I'll look harder for the katsuobushi. A question about kombu: if you cook it long enough, does it ever get tender enough to leave in the soup, or should you always remove it. Another thing, is fish ever included in proper miso soup? I remember my parents used to simmer salmon and tuna scraps in the stock but we are not Japanese.


          5 Replies
          1. re: RealMenJulienne

            Kombu can be bitter when cooked too long (do not boil it). A great use for leftover kombu from dashi making is kombu no tsukudani. The kombu is cooked down in soy, sake, mirin and sugar and eaten with rice.

            1. re: RealMenJulienne

              Well, there are soups/stews including plenty with fish that include miso, and then there's "miso soup" or "misoshiru". I'm neither Japanese nor an authority, but I think fish, or any other meat/flesh, is rare in the latter. Usually it's just broth, miso, some tofu, and minor vegetable garnishes.

              As to your original question, I think most Japanese would find miso soup made only with kombu broth unusual, probably too bland, but dashi can be made with other dried fish or for that matter dried mushrooms - so bonito/katsuo doesn't define dashi per se. On the other hand, I don't know what you'll think of it when you try it, but I do think it's worth making an effort to find it at least once.

              1. re: MikeG

                Soak Kombu in water for 15-20 minutes, then heat pot. Take kombu out as soon as little bubbles start to form around it. Never boil it.

              2. re: RealMenJulienne

                Regarding katsuobushi -- here's the "cheap" substitute that a lot of people (incl. in Japan) use instead of the flakes. The flavor won't be as deep, but it will be much better than just using kombu water.


                If you are allergic to MSG don't use this!

                Amazon also sells the flakes, although it looks very expensive to me.


                Regarding kombu, don't boil. Best approach is to just let the kombu sit in water for an hour or so (or even overnight if you can) -- but do not keep under high heat.

                Also add the miso at the end - don't continue cooking ingredients after you've added it.

                1. re: calumin

                  The real dashi is quite easy to make and is very satisfying vs. the fake dashi used in "miso dashi". I suggest getting the katsuobushi. The Amazon price was very high, you should be able to find it for about $6-8 for 100 grams. It takes a small handful to make about 5-7 cups of stock, so it goes a long way. Real dashi is almost magical and is used in so many Japanese dishes for an amazing flavor from such a simply stock to make. It takes about 8 minutes or so to make a pot of dashi.

              3. I think you can make miso soup without katsuobushi. The vegeterian style is to make it with dried shitake mushrooms. There was a Japanese drama called Osen in which the owner of a restaurant made it with nothing more than miso and water. She heated a pan to an enormous level, put the miso (she might have used both white and red in combination-a meatier flavor) and poured in water. The show highlighted the fact that the carmelization of the miso from the hot pan created sufficient flavors to make the miso soup. I haven't tried it yet, but I think the green onions at the end would really help this to gain enough flavor. The katsuobushi, on the other hand, adds a delicious smokiness and sweetness to the soup that is quite desirable. In fact, I have had some amazing miso soup that has higher levels of smokiness. The best quality shaved bonito is fermented for an extra month in a complex process that adds more flavor. The smoking process is a 6 month process that precedes the fermentation process. You can get katsuobushi mail order at Mitsuwa or even perhaps from Amazon. There's an internet video on Martha Stewarts web site in which Nobu Matsuhisa, the famed owner of Nobu, makes dashi. Another video shows him making miso soup. Both are extremely easy when you have the ingredients.