These are the umami loaded fish flakes that dance on top of your Okonomiyaki, fresh off the grill-top at the Izakaya. Bonito flakes are called katsuobushi – 鰹節 – in Japanese.
What are bonito flakes made from?
Made of smoked bonito or skipjack tuna that has been fermented and dried into blocks as hard as wood – the fish is then shaved in to mega-thin ribbons and packaged up.
What do bonito flakes taste like?
There’s a salty and smoky element to katsuobushi that can vary in intensity from brand to brand.
Do these flakes taste fishy? Yes. But not overly so. It might be easiest to think of katsuobushi as paper-thin, dry ribbons of high quality fish jerky.
Katsuobushi and dried kelp are the main flavors in dashi (the ubiquitous broth used in soba, sunomono, miso soup and oden, etc).
You will also find the savory fish flakes used as a stuffing in okaka (おかか) onigiri, a topping on takoyaki and a texture/flavor element on cold tofu.
Why are my bonito flakes moving?
If you’ve ever ordered okonomiyaki at an izakaya, you’ve probably seen the dried bonito flakes swaying back and forth on top of your food. This can be pretty dramatic to see for the first time!
However, the reason for this motion is pretty simple: as steam from the hot food rises, it rehydrates the ribbon thin fish flakes, causing them to move to and fro until they are fully saturated.
Where to buy bonito flakes
You can find katsuobushi at most Asian markets. Or you can easily order bonito flakes on Amazon.
- Okaka Onigiri おかかおにぎり
- Okonomiyaki お好み焼き
- Japanese Style Grilled Bell Peppers
- Japanese Cabbage Salad (Coleslaw)
- Edamame with bonito and seaweed
- Spicy and sweet tofu
- Dashi tamago yaki (Japanese omelet)
- Yaki udon
Bonito flakes make wonderful base-broths used in many soups. They impart a flavor that’s umami-rich and authentically Japanese.
At the heart of Japanese cuisine is a stock made of katsuobushi and konbu (kelp).
It is called Dashi (だし) – and it’s the base stock used in simmered dishes, broths and – most famously, some versions of miso soup. Many instant brands of dashi do a pretty good job of replicating the original homemade version – however lose some of the nuance and subtlety of making it yourself easily with just a couple ingredients.
And there are a few variations on the original that call for dried sardines or shiitake mushrooms to round out the umami of the broth. Using thicker Ma-Konbu (meaning ‘real konbu’) harvested in it’s second year is a great way to add serious depth of flavor to your dashi stock.
How to make dashi stock
For a deep dive on all things dashi related, check out my post How to Make Dashi.
And what follows is a quick lesson on how to make your own dashi stock (bonito flakes based broth) at home.
Ingredients for dashi stock:
- 6 cups water
- 20 grams kombu (preserved kelp)
- 4 cups katsuobushi (dried, shaved bonito flakes)
Directions for dashi stock:
- Add water and kombu to a stockpot and let kombu steep at room temperature for at least 30 minutes (you can soak the kombu for up to 6 hours if you have the time to wait).
- Place pot over medium heat and bring to a boil.
- Remove kombu right before water reaches full boil.
- Turn heat off and allow liquid to cool slightly (you can also add a tablespoon or two of cold water to cool quicker).
- Add bonito flakes and stir until mixed in. Bring liquid to a boil again.
- Once boiling, decrease the heat to low and lightly simmer for 5 minutes, skimming off any foam that rises to the top.
- Turn off heat and let steep for 10-15 minutes.
- Strain liquid through cheesecloth or a fine sieve to remove bonito flakes from the liquid (straining through a couple paper towels will work in a pinch).
- Use dashi immediately, or store in the fridge for up to one week. You can also store unused dashi in the freezer for a month or so.
Health Benefits of Bonito Flakes
Not only are bonito flakes delicious in soups or as toppings to various classic Japanese dishes, they are also pretty darn healthy for you! Bonito flakes are known to:
- improve blood circulation
- improve concentration
- help reduce anxiety and depression
Cooking with bonito flakes is also a great way for those looking to lower their salt intake to add savory flavor to dishes without raising the overall sodium level of the dish too much.
Bonito flakes for your cat
OMG… kitties love the taste of katsuobushi!
In fact, it’s best not to let your four-pawed feline friend find your bag of bonito flakes – unless you want them to devour the entire contents in a purring frenzy.
I have a kitty, so I know exactly how crazy cats can get as soon as they catch a whiff of those yummy fish flakes!
Since bonito flakes are very low in calories, they make a great snack for cats, especially those who are on a restricted diet.
I’m sure you’ve noticed how expensive bonito flakes sold at pet stores can be (it’s highway robbery). So what is a pet owner to do when their favorite kitty meows and begs for more fish flakes? Go to Amazon and order a bag of it for a fraction of the price!
Bonito flakes for kitties are the same ones used in Japanese cuisine, it’s as simple as that.