命の出汁 – broth of vigour

an adventure in japanese cuisine, an obsession with the izakaya

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dashi – the broth of vigour

Dashi is the basis of almost everything in Japanese cooking. This is a very strong statement which until recently I would have slightly chuckled at. Sure, the majority of basic cooking stocks build upon dash, but so do most sauces and even batters for Takoyaki (octopus balls) and Okonomyaki (Japanese Pancakes).

The recipe below is the standard I use as a basis for my dashi. I have seen a plethora of different variations using the same ingredients just tweaking the amounts, more on that later on. For a vegetarian stock I would substitute 50g of dried shitake mushrooms for the bonito flakes.


  • 1 Litre of water
  • a piece of konbu 3″ x 3″(dried kelp)
  • 30g katsuobushi (dried bonito shavings)


Put the water and the konbu in a saucepan and start up on a medium heat. Just prior to the water coming to the boil, pull out and discard the konbu and put in the katsuobushi, leaving until the water comes to the boil. When boiling begins turn off the heat and allow to  cool for 10 to 15 minutes or until all the katsuobushi has sunk to the bottom of the pan. Then strain through a fine sieve or colander lined with muslin or paper towels.

From this base you can easily grab 200ml or so with a tablespoon of miso paste and your favourite garnishes (seaweed, long onions, tofu, etc) for a very delicious miso soup. It is so easy to throw together (even if you make the dashi from scratch) you will wonder why you used the packet mixes in the first place (except maybe to take to work!!). Another variation that is a favourite of mine is to add a handful of frozen seafood (from a marinara mix or similar) as the dashi is being brought to the boil for a more filling soup.

The finished dashi will keep for a few days in the fridge, or you can freeze it. I have some jumbo cubed ice cube trays which are great for this. You may want a more condensed dashi if you are going to freeze it (to take up less space in the freezer); my approach for this is to double the amount of konbu and katsuobushi and leave it to steep for longer. That way you can add an equal amount of water to the melted ice cube and get a similar flavoured soup.

Other regular uses in my kitchen include:

  • Cooking rice – replace the water you would use in your rice cooker with dashi
  • Vegetables – turnips, daikon raddish, cabbage , eggplants or other vegetables to be used as part of a japanese dish can be boiled in dashi to add extra flavour before the rest of the dish is added
  • Add to rice – one of my favourite lunches is to make some rice in a rice cooker, add some bits & pieces (long onions, any leftover or frozen seafood (defrosted of course) and other garnishes) and pour over hot dashi to make an almost porridge like consistency

Michiba’s Broth of Vigour

One of the key inspirations for this site, and hence the honour of the name comes from the original Iron Chef series (surprise). The first Iron Chef Japanese, Rokusaburo Michiba, had a trademark Dashi which was labelled “the broth of vigour” (in Japanese “Inochi no Dashi” or 命の出汁). He prepared this at the beginning of almost every battle, bringing water to the boil with Konbu in it then putting an absolute bucketload of katsuobushi into the pot.

This would make such an incredibly intense stock. I have overloaded my dashi a few times (no where near this extent) when I wanted to make a rich sauce base but I find you end up with a little too smoky a flavour for my liking using it this way just for a soup stock.

Anyway, dashi is easy and quick to put together from long life ingredients. Try it, you’ll never want to go back to the packet mix and it will never go to waste.


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Sushi on the fly

One of the few bonuses from travelling so much is access to the better lounges. Heading home from Tokyo on JAL and on the terminal side of the gates, the First Class lounge has a sushi bar. Time to get a last hit before I head home. At least I can eat in first class before I get on the back part of the plane home 😉

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Friday Night Sushi

I love a casual sushi night at home; out come the Japanese knives and the toys from the kitchen street in Tokyo. Next thing you know the head is shaved and the Jiro impressions come out. Well, maybe not quite that far.

The biggest challenge I have with sushi at home is variety. Going to the trouble of making the vinegar from scratch and slicing up the fish along with all the garnishes etc is kinda effort effort for a Friday night. On the flip side however my choice of sashimi grade fish is limited in Australia even when going to the biggest fish market in Sydney. There is always salmon, tuna (normally just straight maguro not otoro or chutoro fattier variants), king fish and if lucky you will get one of the following available: Scallops, Snapper or Octopus. Very soon you can get the feeling that you’ve “had enough raw fish”.

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So here are some of my approaches for adding a bit more variety to the table when ingredients are rare:

  • Marinate the fish: There are many different ways to change the flavour of the fish and add variety. For Tuna I often blanch a piece in hot water very quickly, bathe it in ice, then marinate in a mix of sake and soy sauce. For white fish, wrapping it in konbu seaweed and refrigerating it for a few hours.
  • Dressed Sashimi: From a simple drizzle of yuzu or lemon juice to the Nobu style Tiradito which includes a drop of chilli paste along with cilantro (coriander) leaves you can have a small plate of zing on the menu
  • Pressed Sushi: We can often get BBQ Eel at our fish markets. Making this into nigiri sushi normally requires more attention to detail than I have available on a Friday night especially when I have already burned my focus not cutting off fingers with the yanagiba. Pressed sushi frames are often available in asian grocery stores and give a different shape and style to add variety.
  • Lazy Garnishes: While most sushi bar’s have piles of stringy daikon radish on hand, this also is not a Friday night fun project. I will often grab a bag of bean sprouts to use as garnishes or to prop up sashimi. Some salmon roe perched atop a scallop or a twisted flower made from slices of salmon give het another twist.
  • Rice Cakes: I admit it, to make my sushi rice I use an electronic rice cooker. There is always that starchy crust on the bottom no matter how many times I wash the rice. It never goes into the mix for the sushi rice, but I will often season it with a bit of the sushi vinegar and dry fry it in a non-stick pan to give a crust on both sides as a lazy-western-onigiri.
  • Vegetables: Yeah, Yeah I know, vegetables. From cooking slices of carrots in sake, mirin and soy to using okra, avocado (not my favourite) or even mushrooms this can add a bit of a change. Also can calm down vegetarians if they manage to get through the security guard you have placed at the door.

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Hope this gives you some ideas. Now just chill the sake, turn up the Jazz & chill 😉

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Extreme Teppanyaki

February this year I was invited to a dinner with some people I had met in Tokyo at an incredible venue in Shinjuku. The restaurant was perched on one of the top three floors of the Mistui building, just near where I usually stay, and I experienced the most over the top Teppanyaki ever.

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I don’t know about you, but for me back in Australia, Teppanyaki conjures up memories of team building or family dinners where you had some reasonable food, cheap hot sake, and throughout the night food is thrown at you making you feel like an absolute fool. This was not one of those venues.

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With two sets of small appetisers including a multiple spoon construction and a sensational bonito carpaccio starting us off the grilled foie gras and the lobster with butter then came as no surprise. After I had come to terms with my sake coming in a beautiful glass teapot the beef finally came out adorned with a smattering of vegetables and the thinly sliced garlic that had been cooking for most of the meal.

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So yes, as the finale there was the obligatory fried rice, but it was placed lovingly into bowls instead of being thrown at us across the room. I also managed to leave the restaurant without bits of fried egg stuck in my hair.

The food was delicious of course, fusing french ingredients and flavours alongside Japanese Teppan cooking and I suppose that is what distracted me a little. Certainly a great occasional experience but typically would prefer to lay down the cash on something a little more traditional when contemplating a good Japanese meal and go fully French when I wanted to. But the ingredients, cooking and atmosphere seriously could not be beaten when you are thinking “experience” beyond just eating.

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Sushi Bar Yasuda – Tokyo

Let it be known that I am a Sushi Junky, 100%. What started in the Edo period as a street food and eventually took over the world and became something to add to in every country (sometimes not so well) grabs me with it’s simplicity and intensity.

Towards the end of 2013 I saw an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown” on CNN that featured Tokyo. Well, it featured parts of Tokyo that were not really up my alley for the most part (being tied up and having wax dripped on me for one) but it did highlight a sushi chef in his restaurant – Sushi Bar Yasuda.

Now that I have you back . . .

This story really dragged me in. Firstly, someone who had made for themselves a name overseas and then returned back to the mother ship to prove themselves. Sushi is everywhere in Japan and with the movie “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” and the plethora of Michelin Star sushi only restaurants in Tokyo this is not an easy feat. Secondly, a wild passionate martial artist running his own sushi bar and sticking to his “guns”. And lastly, a top quality sushi restaurant in Tokyo where the master actually speaks english.

My first visit to Sushi Bar Yasuda was with my wife in August 2014. The majority of folks that evening were international visitors who had booked there prior to their arrival with the hope of having some sensational sushi. They were not disappointed. Many of them had suffered from the impact of “global sushi”. By this I mean that they have had limited exposure to much beyond salmon and tuna and thought more of the fish than the rice. Yasuda-san politely tried to nudge most people out of their comfort zone without being too pushy to enjoy some more different toppings. I tried to help having long ago had my sushi apprehensions shattered by friends and colleagues desperate to feed me the weirdest things the sea has to offer.



Yasuda is very clear to comment when you are in the restaurant (as he states in the Bordain segment) that sushi is about the rice, “Sushi is Rice culture, not Fish culture” and this is evident in his end product. There is something a step beyond just a nice piece of topping on good rice going on here. From the video also you will see that he spends much time in preparation. Unfortunately the video gives you the impression that he is incredibly cheap when it comes to selecting ingredients. One night at his place and you will realise that this is more him using his skill to find different tasting morsels from various parts of the fish. Ask where his Uni (sea urchin roe) comes from and you will realise that he seeks to find the best for his customers.

Keeping a 14 customers satisfied and under control like I have seen no one else accomplish on there own, Yasuda-san fires out perfect balls of sushi mixed with banter and in English and Japanese. You can get mesmerised just watching him put together sushi. See the small video below.

There are several sushi items that have surprised me at this place. Delivering Uni (sea urchin roe) without wrapping it in roasted seaweed, oyster sushi, and having sushi with nothing more than sprouts; the latter being one I often ask for seconds of and the taste still surprises me.


Yasuda-san often refers to his place as “sushi bar public house” and he loves to have a buzzing atmosphere. This is completely at odds with the majority of more high end sushi places I have visited which are very somber and quiet. Feel free when you come in to get fire off some questions and the mood will flip immediately. He is more than happy for you to take photos and to not only enjoy his food but have a great time. On subsequent visits with work colleagues I have moved with them and others to the small table behind the counter and held court with more drinks until the shop finally closed.



OK, so this is not the place you will come to every night for sushi. Or if you do, please contact me through the blog so you can adopt me as your son. However, compared to many other upmarket sushi places (or Normal Sushi instead of Fake Sushi as Yasuda-san would say) the price is reasonable, the atmosphere incredible and the sushi extreme. I always go for his YASUDA style Omakase and trust him but there is a fixed menu if you want predictability on price. See his website for information on pricing but as a guide we tend to pay about 2/3rds of what that place in Ginza charges for food alone including drinks.


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Staying Soba

From my first visit to Japan I fell in love with Soba noodles. They were my first experience of cold noodles in a dipping sauce and the combination of the sweetness of the sauce with the texture of the noodles was amazing. They also make sense in a warmish climate in Australia as a simple summer dish. On one of my trips I bought a soba bocho (knife for cutting soba noodles) and had a couple of reasonable attempts at making the noodles. These were inspired by a couple of recipes from Nobu that I had in a US visit where the Soba were made with either Jalapeño or Cilantro into the actual soba dough.

In August 2014 my wife and I braved up and attended a full day Soba Making course as part of the Tokyo Cooking School. Our teacher Inouye-san was cheerful and extremely excited to share his knowledge of Soba noodles.



The course started with Inouye-san giving some background into Soba and its preparation followed by demonstrations from him on how to make various soba broth and dipping sauces, preparing different accompaniments for cold and hot Soba and then making both pure soba and soba noodles that incorporate a small amount of wheat flour.



As with anything you try to do yourself without seeing a master do it, there are plenty of tricks involved in preparing Soba noodles. All the recipes I had used were quite simply in weight of flour and volume of water. I almost felt taken back to black and white photo school talking about the impact of relative humidity on the production of noodles – the end result being using the weight of the added liquid against a table of humidity. Far more techie than I was expecting.




The rolling technique was something I was really looking forward to. Of course, Inouye-san’s rolling pin flew around like a crazed ninja; making it look so very simple. Soon after the big “axe” appeared (the soba bocho) and we had a plethora of noodles.



At this time we broke for lunch, tasting the noodles that Inouye-san had prepared. We helped put together the accompaniments and had a delightful lunch of both Soba in hot broth with scallops and cold Soba with dipping sauce. Quite frankly at this stage my wife and I were ready for a nap having felt that we had absorbed Soba noodle culture both mentally and via the stomach, but we were here to learn, it was now our turn.

We both made 80/20 and pure Soba flour noodles over the next couple of hours with constant supervision from the master. The results were quite good with our major flaw being the variable width of our noodles as we tired out. At one stage Inouye-san suggested my last handful might be reserved for use in a fettucini recipe 😉

The rolling was more of a challenge for me, I think I probably need to break both my thumbs to get them into the position required for smooth and constant rolling.




We walked away from this awesome day with great memories, a new friend and about 2 kilos of Soba which kept us going for a couple of weeks. Some were distributed to Japanese friends for their opinion and they were quite impressed. Looking now it seems the school has expanded it’s courses to a wider selection of Japanese food so I can see myself going back for more learnings this year. If you check the site there is a link to a site that sells all sorts of cooking gear around noodle making also.


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New York State of Mind . . . Blue Fin

In New York a day or two before starting a 2 week course with for work, needed a sushi hit (my 30 minute layover at Narita didn’t really lend itself to the opportunity). Staying right near Times Square was great location wise but I had Sunday day time which dropped off some of the “must see” ones I had on the list (such as the original Sushi Yasuda).

After a small google I decided on a short wander for an early lunch to Blue Fin only a few minutes walk from the hotel. The sushi was good, but a little pricey no doubt due to it’s location but I can’t complain about the variety.


Technically I arrived for “Brunch” which seems to be an insanely popular concept in New York. Half the menu was a Raw Bar and Sushi and the other half full of eggs, muesli and other brekky stuff.

My mental illness kicked in and I asked the waiter if it was technically possible at brunch to order a plate of sushi with a side of applewood bacon. “Of Course, Sir” was the reply. I didn’t, but I can’t say I wasn’t tempted. The Gaijin in me showing wildly. Going to run that idea past my Japanese circle when I stop there for a week on the way home ;).