Kazuri-bushi are the delicious dehydrated fish flakes made from a close relative of the tuna, called the bonito. They are added as a condiment to many Japanese dishes, and also form the base for dashi stock, so they’re pretty important to Japanese cuisine.
How are Bonito flakes made?
To make Bonito flakes, the fish is first cut into four pieces to make fushi, which is the name for the large dried pieces. The pieces are then laid out in a basket in a specific fashion and boiled for around two hours. The fish is then de-boned manually with tweezers. The boiled and boneless pieces are then smoked, often using cherry or oak wood. After smoking, the tar and fat are shaved off of the surface, and then the fushi is sun-dried. The result is a block as hard as wood known as katsuobushi, some call it the hardest food in the world. The flakes themselves are shaved off of this block using a special shaver. This entire process can take many months and generally reduces the fish to about a sixth of its original weight.
The production of katsuobushi is largely industrial now in Japan, but there are some artisans still prepping their katsobushi by hand, like those featured in the video below from Great Big Story.
How do you use Bonito flakes?
Bonito flakes give a slug of savour to any dish that needs one. While slightly fishy, it is this smoky umami note that brings the flakes their sensory renown. Combine them with the edible kelp kombu, water, and other ingredients, and you get dashi stock, which is the base for miso soup and other broths, and is also added to the dough of fried foods like okonomiyaki and takoyaki. They can also be sprinkled on noodle or rice dishes or other savoury foods.
The Great Big Story team have travelled extensively through Japan and South Korea, searching out the region's most unique food stories, like the fastest mochi maker in Japan.