Japanese supermarkets have a robust section of grab-and-go food. Sushi, tempura, salads, sandwiches, edamame, and vegetables make a great lunch or supplement for dinner at home. When we lived in Tokyo, I used to pick up some sushi and a small plastic clamshell of asparagus cooked in dashi for lunch about once a week. The flavor of the asparagus was delicious, but they were always overcooked and too soft. Now that we’re back in the States and asparagus is somewhat affordable, I can make it my own way at home. Not joking: asparagus in our Tokyo supermarkets was usually about US$1 PER STALK. This recipe is my take on the traditional asparagus ohitashi, but cooked more to my preference (which means crisp-tender asparagus, rather than soggy and stringy).
The traditional recipe calls for soaking roasted or blanched asparagus in a mixture of dashi, soy sauce and sugar. I can’t think of a reason not to simply simmer the asparagus in the dashi mixture to give it time to soak up all of the delicious flavor. Bonus: fewer dishes, and it comes together in less than 15 minutes.
Asparagus ohitashi is delicious served warm or cold. If you wait to serve it cold, let the asparagus and the dashi mixture cool separately, then add the asparagus back to the liquid to refrigerate. If you leave them in the hot dashi to cool, they will continue to cook and you’ll end up with overcooked asparagus.
The dashi really contributes to the flavor of this dish, so try to use some that you know you like. You can make your own from scratch, buy the dashi granules that dissolve in water (I’ve seen HonDashi at Safeway), or try to find the packets of pre-measured ingredients that you add to water. These are popular in Japan, and they’re kind of like dashi tea bags! I’m carefully rationing the ones my sweet friend Ai gave me before we left Japan, pictured below. You can make a big batch of dashi and freeze it for miso soup, or use it and lots of other Japanese recipes.
Tip: You can use the same method to cook spinach, which is even more traditional than the asparagus version.
Another tip: Save what’s is left of the poaching liquid to use in soups or to make another batch of asparagus or spinach ohitashi.
- 1 bunch asparagus, ends trimmed
- 3 cups dashi
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- bonito flakes
- Combine the dashi, soy sauce, and sugar in a shallow saucepan large enough to fit the asparagus in one layer. Bring to a boil and reduce to simmer.
- Add the asparagus and cook at a simmer until the asparagus are crisp-tender. This should take about 4 minutes for very thin spears and up to 10 minutes for thicker spears.
- Remove the asparagus from the dashi and place on a serving plate. Spoon extra dashi over the vegetables to prevent them from drying out. Top with a small handful of bonito flakes (about 2 grams).
- Reserve the leftover poaching liquid to repeat the recipe or to add to Japanese-style soups.