For those of you that know what Katsuobushi is, don't worry, I have not lost my mind. For those that don't know what katsuobushi is, it's smoked, aged and dried skipjack tuna which is most commonly used to make Japanese dashi stock.
Now, I know what you're probably thinking, but let me give you the backstory before you judge. I recently got asked to join as a guest on a news program to talk about a new Katsuobushi plant that's opened up in France to produce katsuobushi for the European market. Because the Japanese have a pretty limited number of ways in which they use katsuobushi, I was asked if it's an ingredient that could be used in western food.
Because Katsuobushi has a meaty, smoky, savory flavor, that's pretty similar to bacon, the obvious ways are in things like pasta sauces and stews, but the question got me thinking: what are some ways in which this normally savory ingredient could be used to push boundaries?...
Aside from Katsuobushi, the other main ingredient used to make dashi is Konbu (kelp). Katsuobushi is loaded with inosine monophosphate, which is an amino acid that produces the taste of umami. Konbu is loaded with glutamate, which is another amino acid that triggers your umami taste buds. Together they form a kind of synergy that amplifies their inherent umami.
As I started to think of more unusual ways to leverage this synergy I listed off other foods that contain a lot of glutamates such as cheese, tomatoes, corn, and butter. Butter is an interesting one because it's an ingredient that can go into both sweet and savory foods. That's when the thought occurred to me that katsuobushi might work in sweets. If bacon can be coated in chocolate, or added to pecan pie, then surely katsuobushi would work.
Shortbread was one of the first ideas I came up with, because it's a butter cookie that's often as savory as it is sweet, with loads of umami. It's also something that pairs so well either with other desserts or as part of the dessert (such as the crust). Ordinarily the umami in shortbread is expressed thanks to Maillard browning, that boosts the umami in the butter as well as the flour. In this case, I wanted to add katsuobushi as another umami-boosting ingredient.
The idea of adding fish to a dessert might sound a bit gross at first, but the nearly 3 month long process to turn the skipjack tuna into katsuobushi virtually eliminates any fishy odor and supplants it with oodles of umami, along with a marvelous smoky flavor that's intense, without being acrid.
While the shortbread on its own is delicious, I decided to dip it in a bit of dark chocolate (Valrhona Caraïbe) which has some nut and coffee notes that I thought would play nicely with the smoky katsuobushi. Another flavor that I think would work really well here is maple, but I didn't have any maple sugar, and adding syrup to shortbread is a bad idea because of its water content.
The resulting shortbread has a crisp bite, which crumbles and eventually melts away. You get some smoke up front, with bitterness from the chocolate, but this eventually melts into a rich buttery sweetness that's tempered by little salt crystals that burst as though they're prodding your taste receptors awake for the grand finale: a cascade of lingering umami that will put a smile on anyone's face.
- 5 grams katsuobushi
- 50 grams rolled oats
- 190 grams all-purpose flour
- 45 grams potato starch
- 80 grams powdered sugar
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 200 grams cultured unsalted butter (cold and cut into ¼-inch cubes)
- 200 grams dark chocolate
- Move your oven rack to the middle position and preheat to 450 degrees F (230 C).
- Use a blender or spice grinder to the the katsuobushi and rolled oats into a fine powder.
- Add the powdered katsuobushi, oats, all-purpose flour, potato starch, powdered sugar and salt to the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times to mix.
- Add the butter and pulse for 2 seconds at a time until the mixture starts to come together in big clumps.
- Dump the dough onto a non-stick surface such as a sheet of parchment paper, or silicone mat. Working quickly, shape the dough into a ½-inch thick square (7-inch x 7-incby wrapping the edges of the parchment paper over the dough and pressing the dough into the corners.
- Refine the edges of the dough using a pastry knife and as a guide to make a perfect square that's roughly the same thickness. Put the dough in the freezer for 10 minutes.
- Cut the square of dough in half and the cut the dough into 20 bars. Place them on a baking sheet. Use the blunt end of a toothpick to poke a few holes into each piece of shortbread.
- Place the sheet pan in the oven and bake for 3 minutes.
- Turn down the heat to 250 degrees F (120 C) and continue baking until the shortbread is a pale golden brown (8-12 minutes). Turn the oven off, and prop the oven door open a crack with a wooden spoon let the shortbread dry out for another 45 minutes.
- Remove the shortbread from the oven and transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.
- Melt the chocolate either in a double boiler or in the microwave. And prepare a sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone mat.
- Dip just the foot of each shortbread in the chocolate, let the excess drip off, and then gently place each cookie on the prepared sheet. Let the chocolate solidify in a cool place.
These are some of the best cookies I have ever made. You say baking isn't your strong suit, but these are just beyond perfect. Thank you for sharing this interesting recipe.
Marc Matsumoto says
Nadine, it makes me so happy to hear you enjoyed these! I was a little worried this might be too weird for most people. I do okay with baking that doesn't involve cakes, but when I post cakes, you can assume I failed 3-4 times before coming up with a recipe that worked😂
Kathy Stroup says
This recipe blows my mind. I'm going to have to get some good katsuobushi and try it! It put me in mind of something I stumbled upon in a big Mexican grocery store. I didn't know what it was, but it looked tasty, so I brought it home.
Quesadilla Salvadoreña is a pound cake made with hard cheese. The traditional cheese is Queso Duro Blanco, which is similar to Cotija cheese from Mexico. Many recipes substitute Parmesan, but I wouldn't use good quality Reggiano for this. The use of hard cheese in a dessert was completely novel to me, and if I hadn't tasted it, I don't think I would have ever tried to make it! I can't find the recipe I used, but I found this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O8bis-vAN0c It's similar to the one I made. I don't think there's much call for English versions of this because of the cheese. If you have call to make a pound cake, you might give this a try. I think you would love it.
Marc Matsumoto says
I've never had this, but I love the look of it! It's gonna be tough finding the right cheese for it though.
As for Katsuobushi, you want to look for katsuobushi that doesn't have much bloodline in it (less of the dark colored parts) as this part can be a little fishy.
Kathy Stroup says
I used to have a salmon shaped shortbread mold. This would have been more to form than the pecans I usually put in!😂 I have fish shaped cookie cutters still. It would be fun to make these for a party and see if anyone could guess the mystery ingredient. Then they'd get a laugh when the cookies were fish all along!
Seriously, I will make these if I can get some good quality Katsuobushi. I just have trouble trusting what I find here. I'm not that knowledgeable. Thanks for the tip about the bloodline. Next time I get to order from Kokoro Cares I'll have to get some. And there will be a next time since you got us addicted to your friends' soy sauce!
Marc Matsumoto says
That would be hilarious, but I guess fish shaped cookies might give it away. I'm working on a holiday gift box with Kokoro Care Packages that will have some pretty good katsuobushi in it😉