Quick & Easy Fish Broth

Korean dried seafood
Korean dried seafood

A long time ago, I really intended to approach this whole international cooking thing very practically. I was going to go cuisine by cuisine, showing what ingredients you should keep in your pantry and combine in different ways to make lots of different dishes.

I haven’t exactly followed up on that, despite taking lots of photos of ingredients along the way. Perhaps I’ll work harder at it now. This is a recipe I’ve mashed together willy-nilly from my Korean and Japanese cookbooks because it tastes good and makes life easier.

Japanese and Korean Recipes for Fish Broth

Also, I can always have all these ingredients on hand. I have a number of fish soup recipes from all over the world that taste much, much better with this broth than they would with vegetable stock or water.

Fish broth or stock is not something that’s easy to buy – and making it the old fashioned way, with whole fish or fish heads, involves so much messiness and picking at bones. Yech. Did that once, probably never will again.

But if you don’t have a really terrific Japanese or Korean market just down the road, as I am lucky enough to have, you probably have never seen some of these ingredients. So I’ll go over them:

Korean Fish Flavoring - Fish Sauce & Dried Anchovies

Korean Dried Anchovies

Myeolchi – 멸치

I buy these at our Korean market and keep them in the fridge – they are startling and kind of gross to many Americans who aren’t used to seeing eyes in any of the formerly living food we eat, but very easy to work with and not something you actually serve (at least not in soup).

Just snap off the heads and set them to the side, pick out any black bits that you can see, and put them in a strainer ball to make your soup to make it all that much easier to remove them later:

dried anchovies-1
see, not so bad!

One other common dish that uses these is Myeolchi-bokkeum 멸치볶음 – stir fried anchovies with red chillie sauce, sweet and spicy and savory. A delicious dish I don’t bother to make myself, since I can get it in the deli section at Joong Boo. 🙂

You can make a very simple broth by just using the anchovies and water – for about 20 2″ fish, use 4 cups cold water. Put it in a pan that will cover the fish (especially if you have them in a strainer) and bring to a boil. Cook for 8-10 minutes, but not longer or it gets a bitter flavor.

But, as I mentioned, I like to mash up that basic recipe with other ingredients from my Japanese recipe for dashi. So here’s what else I put in:

Japanese Pantry Broth
I don’t always have dried shiitake mushrooms on hand, though – since I tend to use them up in other recipes.

Dried Kelp Squares

kombu or dashima – 昆布  or  다시마

This is not the kind of dried seasoned seaweed that comes in flexible dark sheets and is used to wrap up sushi or kimbap or eaten as a snack. This thicker stuff, sometimes with bits of white salty-looking residue on the outside that needs to be soaked or boiled to be eaten.

It’s also totally vegetarian, so you can make a “Sea Broth” with it and mushrooms if you need a vegetarian alternative. If it’s too bland, try adding soy sauce or miso paste.

You can reserve the boiled kelp after making the broth and slice it up to mix into other dishes if you want. It’s a common enough ingredient in Korean cooking, though sometimes it may help to rinse it off since it tends to have a texture that’s a little bit slimy from the natural glutenous (but still gluten-free – just similar effect) chemicals in it.

Ingredients for Fish Broth
anchovies, kelp (kombu), and bonito (katsuobushi)

measured ingredients
for 6 cups water: 30 fish, 4-5 pieces kombu, 1/2 cup bonito flakes

Dried Smoked Bonito Flakes
Katsuobushi – 鰹節 or かつおぶし

I use the dried fish flakes from Japanese cooking because dried shrimp is something many of my pescatarian (fish only, no red or white meat) friends are still allergic to. Also the fish flakes have a really nice smoky aroma. Yum!

The flakes are very delicate – you don’t want to add them at the beginning of the cooking, only after the boiling is done. And you will be straining them out to use the broth. Kind of like a fishy tea.

So, here’s my usual technique – which might not be perfectly represented below because I couldn’t find my favorite mesh ball when I was working on the photos and it all kind of fell apart. I strained it all together in the end and it was fine:

Quick & Easy Fish Broth Recipe

For 6 cups broth:

  • 30 anchovies (2″ length, or 3 oz.)
  • 20-30 square inches of kombu (about 6-8 squares, usually)
  • 1/2 cup dried bonito katsuobushi
  • 6 cups cold water

If you aren’t in a huge rush, soak the kombu in the cold water while you prepare the anchovies. 10-15 minutes in the cold water before you start cooking it will bring out more flavor. Don’t mix in the katsuobushi right away. Take the pot from cold water to boiling, then turn down the heat and set a timer so you only cook it 8-10 minutes. Longer than that will bring out bitterness from the anchovies:

Step 1: Kombu, Anchovies, Cold Water

Now you may turn off the heat and remove the anchovies (if they’re all held together in their strainer properly – some had come out here, so I left them there. If you want to use the kombu in another dish, you can take it out before you add the dried fish flakes. The fish flakes will start out floating on the top:

Step 2: After cooking, add fish flakes

Set the timer for 3 minutes – the fish flakes will soak into the broth and fall to the bottom in this time:

Step 3: Let steep until katsuobushi is soaked into the broth (3 min)

Now you’re ready to strain it and use it! It will last fine in the fridge for a day or two, but if you see it get any stickyness to it or foam, dump it out right away. Smelling sweet is also a sign that it’s off.

Straining for clear broth Finished Dashi - Quick & Easy Fish Broth

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