What is Katsuobushi? (Japan)

What is katsuobushi (鰹節/かつおぶし, or okaka おかか)?

Take a skipjack tuna, also known as bonito.

Gut it.

Dry it.

Ferment it.

Smoke it.

If you were a student in an introductory course to the food of Japan, you probably already knew that fish was going to be a common theme.  But katsuobushi, or more specifically, its shavings, are key.

Larger, thicker shavings are called kezurikatsuo and combined with kelp (brown seaweed, or kombu), are vital in preparing dashi (だし), a fish-based soup stock.  Those of a smaller, thinner variety are hanakatsuo.

These plucky condiments are frequently found crowning okonomiyaki, hiyayakko (a cold tofu dish) and takoyaki, and most unusually, are reborn when in close contact with heat;  save a little for Sunday school.

Tokyo - Katsuobushi (2)
Katsuobushi Processing Machine – Basically, you throw the prepared fish into it, and out comes fish shavings.

I saw this machine in Tsukiji Market in Tokyo.  What do you do with it?  Shove one of those katsuobushi bricks into it, and out comes…

Tokyo - Katsuobushi (1)
Katsuobushi Fish Shavings

If you don’t have access to those heavy-duty machines, then how is katsuobushi made?  You could buy a katsuobushi kezuriki (鰹節削り器/かつおぶしけずりき) and do the labor yourself.  These days however, it is easy enough to find the end product in Japanese/East Asian supermarkets.


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