What is Katsuobushi?

Some species of tuna – which provide the popular canned fish, dried and fresh – can grow to over six feet in length and weigh hundreds of pounds.

Katsuobushi is a traditional Japanese ingredient made from dried skipjack tuna. The dried fish is made into flakes to be used as a condiment or as a flavoring base for other dishes. It is often combined with dried seaweed to flavor a variety of authentic Japanese dishes and give them a distinct flavor.

The process of making katsuobushi usually starts by soaking skipjack tuna fillets in boiling water to soften the fish and cook through the meat. The boiled fish pieces are then smoked for up to 20 days until they have an extremely tough texture. They can then be dried in the sun. The entire process can be repeated several times to ensure the hardest texture possible. These pieces of hardened fish are then grated or cut into very thin slices to form rough flakes, similar to the texture of wood chips.

One of the more traditional uses of katsuobushi is to make dashi. Dashi is a traditional Japanese broth that often forms the basis for most soups, sauces, noodle dishes, and other Japanese entrees and condiments. It is made by boiling dried skipjack tuna flakes and seaweed flakes in hot water for an extended period of time. After the fish and seaweed have boiled long enough to flavor the water, the solid pieces are removed from the mixture and the remaining broth is used for Japanese dishes. One of the most common uses of dashi is for miso, a soup made from dashi and beans, rice or barley paste.

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In Japanese cuisine, katsuobushi is also often used as a condiment or topping. Dried skipjack tuna flakes can be drizzled with soy sauce to add moisture and flavor. They can be sprinkled on noodles, tofu or rice dishes. Fish flakes are also often combined with sesame seeds or nori, dried flat seaweed leaves, and served as garnishes.

When katsuobushi flakes are combined with steam, they can move quickly. This tends to occur more often when they are sprinkled on soups or other hot entrees. Due to this sudden movement, dried skipjack tuna flakes are also commonly called dancing fish flakes.

Commercial katsuobushi flakes are generally available in two main textures: coarse and fine. The thick version of the flakes tends to have a stronger fishy flavor and is most often used to make dashi broth. Thin fish flakes are typically purchased more often for toppings and condiments because they have a softer texture that many may find more palatable.

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