Bonito flakes, or katsuobushi in Japanese, are tissue-paper thin fish shavings with intense umami flavours. Bonito flakes can be used as a topping on Takoyaki, a filling for Onigiri, or as a seasoning in the popular Japanese soup, katsuo dashi.
Bonito flakes are made from dried Bonito fish that undergo a unique process and are grated into thin flakes.
Here is everything you need to know about adding Bonito flakes to your menu.
- Preparation - How Bonito Flakes are made
- Inspire - Recipes including bonito flakes
Preparation - How Bonito Flakes are made
Cutting & Slicing
The fresh Bonito fish is cut into 4 pieces. The first cut is made down both sides of the body. The dark coloured part of the flesh is then dived down the middle, creating four pieces.
The pieces of Bonito fish are arranged on a metallic ‘boiling basket’ named ‘nikago’. This step must be completed meticulously as the positioning of the pieces affects the boiling and the shape of the finished bonito flakes.
Shajuku - Boiling
The bonito cuts are then boiled at 75-95 degrees centigrade for a few hours. Freshness, size and quality are all taken into account when boiling the bonito cuts. This is a master technique and takes years of experience to learn.
The bonito pieces are then cooled. A deactivated device is then used to remove the bones. In some instances, the small bones are removed by hand with tweezers.
Once the bonito fish has been deboned and skinned, the cuts on bonitos will be smoked over burning firewood. Wood such as oat, sawtooth or evergreen oat is usually used. This process is completed between 5 and 15 times, but this depends on the bonito pieces.
After smoking, the surface of the bonito fillets is shaven. This removes the tar and fat from the surface of the smoked bonito.
Once the surface is shaven, the drying process can then begin. The bonito cuts are dehydrated in the sun then mould is applied. This draws out more flavour. This process is repeated 3 or 4 times, and that is when ‘honkarebushi’ is complete.
Finally, we reach the final step in the bonito flake process, the shaving. Shaving the dried bonito is another delicate skill that must be done using a special shaver. If shaved incorrectly, the dried bonito will become dust rather than bonito flakes.
Bonito flakes are seen as one of the most important ingredients in Japanese cooking due to their versatility, and light smoky flavour. Bonito flakes can be used in dishes such as Takoyaki Octopus Balls, Katsuo Dashi and Furikake that can used on top of rice or Yaki-soba.
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