Mr. Sato tries his hand at grating his own katsuobushi, and explains why you should too.

In the course of his duties here at SoraNews24, our ace reporter Mr. Sato has eaten some…unusual things. 16-year-old instant ramen, fallen snow lying on the streets of Tokyo, and salt made from his own sweat have all been on his professional menu at one time or another, and so we’d forgive you if you saw this photo and thought that Mr. Sato was about to chow down on a piece of driftwood.

However, what he’s really holding there is a block of katsuobushi, or dried bonito. One of the most important seasonings in traditional Japanese cooking, katsuobushi is a key ingredient a number of recipes, like okonomiyaki and takoyaki, as well as the soup stocks for miso soup and soba/udon noodle broth. Since it’s such an ubiquitous element of Japanese cuisine, most people buy their katsuobushi pre-grated, like in the pouches seen here.

But if you go to upscale grocery stores, or the specialty food shops on the bottom floors of Japanese department stores, you can also buy non-grated katsuobushi, which is essentially a dried bonito fillet.

Mr. Sato picked up this katsuobushi at the Shinjuku branch of department store Isetan, just a few blocks away from SoraNews24 headquarters. Priced at 1,964 yen (US$17.50) for 209 grams (7.4 ounces), it’s quite a bit pricier than pre-flaked versions, but true gourmets insist this is the way to go.

Culinary professionals and home chefs who regularly work with premium ingredients use a special grating box, called a kezuriki, to grate their katsuobushi. However, since this was Mr. Sato’s first time to do his own grating, he decided to see how far he could go with an ordinary kitchen knife and vegetable peeler.

As he grabbed the katsuobushi in his off hand, Mr. Sato was instantly struck by how incredibly hard it is. If you swung it with enough force, you could easily use it like a weapon (and with the proper technique, katsuobushi can be fashioned into an absurdly sharp knife). It’s so hard that the package even had an arrow printed on it, informing us of which direction we should grate in for the smoothest motion.

Armed with both that knowledge and a knife, Mr. Sato began slicing into the katsuobushi…

…at long as you can call the super-thin cuts he was able to make “slices.”

Next he tried the peeler…

…and once again ended up with something closer to “powder” than “flakes.” Eventually, he settled on standing up and using his body weight to press the knife down as the most efficient way to make use of what tools he had.

10 minutes later, with a modest pile of powder produced, Mr. Sato decided to use it furikake-style by sprinkling it over a bowl of white rice.

Taking a look to examine his katsuobushi’s appearance, Mr. Sato noticed that unlike the nearly uniform pale pinkish brown of pre-grated katsuobushi, his had several flecks of darker colors. Maybe they take those out when packaging the pre-made pouches?

But having had to work so hard to get this much usable katsuobushi, Mr. Sato wasn’t about to let any of it go to waste, and he added all of it to the top of his rice. He picked up a mouthful with his chopsticks, raised it towards his lips…

…and suddenly stopped, as he experienced the first way freshly grated katsuobushi is special. Its aroma is far more enticing than that of the pre-made stuff. Half-formed memories of waking up as a boy in the Sato family home in Shimane Prefecture, with miso soup lovingly prepared by his mom waiting on the breakfast table, filled his mind and comforted his heart.

“I could just enjoy this fragrance all day,” Mr. Sato said, his voice filled with the sort of pure emotion that’s so often hidden under his crazier antics.

But katsuobushi is a food, not an air freshener. And so eventually he added just a drop of soy sauce atop the katsuobushi (to counteract the dryness of the powder) and took a bite.

Even though he’d just eaten a full lunch before starting his gatsubushi grating, Mr. Sato found himself unable to let his chopsticks rest. Bite after bite, the simple yet profound deliciousness of the freshly grated katsuobushi compelled him to come back for more, until before he knew it, it was all gone.

So yeah, while there’s definitely some tough labor involved in grating your own katsuobushi, Mr. Sato says it’s something that’s totally worth doing if you’re really serious about the flavor of your food.

Photos ©SoraNews24
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