“Don’t call me ‘fish flakes’, Don’t call me ‘bonito flakes’. Please understand me better! Please shave me into flakes from a solid block of katsuobushi and taste the true flavor of me.”
Well, if I were katsuobushi, I would be screaming at you like that.
Recently my friend Chef David, brought to my kitchen a katsuobushi (block of dried and smoked skipjack tuna). David obtained it 3 months ago on his trip to Makurazaki-town – the town famous for katsuobushi in Kagoshima Prefecture on the southern island of Kyushu, Japan. David also brought with him the tools to shave katsuobushi into flakes – a shaver and wooden hammer.
When I was a child I remember my mother shaving katsuobushi every day for dashi stock. She used the dashi to make our daily miso soups, simmered dishes and many other necessary preparations that appeared on our table. I remember the extremely fragrant aroma and rhythmical sounds of shaving the hard, wood-like katsuobushi permeating and echoing in the kitchen.
When we obtained real katsuobushi, the product was sure to have gone through steaming, drying, smoking and mold treatment stages for about half a year. The final block looks like dried hard-wood, which is covered with a thin layer of black mold.
The first thing that David and I did with his katsuobushi was to wipe away the black coating with a dry – don’t use wet or moist one – kitchen cloth.
We then fixed the blade of the Katsuobushi kezuri, a tool which works like a carpenter’s plane to make the shavings. The blade is set at an angle sticking out of a rectangular box. When used, the shaved flakes go down into the box. The bottom of the box is like a drawer that can be pulled from the end of the box in order to remove the flakes. The ideal extension of the blade to shave the katsuobushi is said to be 0.1mm, probably a little less than the extension of the blade in a carpenter’s plane!
After several trials and error attempts we produced perfectly shaved katsuobushi. The very familiar aroma and the sound of shaving that I enjoyed in my mother’s kitchen and missed for such a long time (oh, I have been so lazy!) came back to my kitchen. David made the dashi stock with excellent Rishiri Island kombu, reputedly the best in Japan, and freshly shaved katsuobushi. The taste of the dashi stock was exceptional – with lots of umami and a very fragrant aroma.
Anyone who wants to experience a real katsuobushi adventure with me in Japan can do so. I am taking you and a small group of others to Makurazaki in Kyushu, next fall, 2018. Come with me and see and learn about the real katsuobushi. She will be so happy. Hiroko Shimbo