Many types of cuisine utilize a simple mixture of basic ingredients that results in an astounding level of flavor. You might already be familiar with one of the most powerful and fundamental combinations in many types of cuisine: the mirepoix—a mix of chopped and sautéed carrots, onions, and celery. Also referred to as aromatics, these three ingredients serve to introduce vibrant flavors and aromas to soup stocks, sauces, and other foods.
If you enjoy Japanese food, you’ve already had another classic combination of flavor: the mixture of dashi broth, mirin, and soy sauce. Together, these three ingredients make up an essential seasoning for many Japanese dishes. But the secret is getting the ratio just right. Known as the golden ratio of Japanese cooking, the simple system details the proper amount of each ingredient needed to achieve the perfect, delicious flavor for many Japanese dishes.
Learning the golden ratio for various seasonings, soups, and sauces will enable you to easily recreate complex levels of flavor and umami just like a real Japanese chef!
Basic Ingredients for Golden Ratio of Japanese Cooking
Dashi — One of the primary components, dashi is a Japanese soup stock. The stock gets its umami-rich flavor from kombu, a fresh seaweed, and katsuobushi (dried bonito fish flakes). In addition to serving as the base for many types of soups, hot pots, and stews, it also adds flavor to many other Japanese dishes.
Soy Sauce — Made from fermented soybeans, wheat, and a brine mixture, soy sauce is one of those classic Japanese condiments that is used for flavoring all sorts of dishes, and also serves as a dipping sauce for many other Japanese foods. Only a little is needed to add another level of flavor to a dish.
Mirin — The third most important part of the golden ratio of Japanese cooking, mirin is a sweet cooking wine made from sake. It is used to add a sweeter flavor and balance to many strong-flavored dishes.
Sake — While not used as part of the golden ratio as much as the above three ingredients, sake does sometimes become a necessary component for certain sauces and seasonings, primarily when cooking stir-fries or creating a vinegar-based dipping sauce.
Sesame Oil — This oil has a distinctive flavor. Adding it to the golden ratio for stir-fries helps the dish develop a deeper, earthier flavor.
Japanese Vinegar — Necessary when creating vinegar-based dipping sauces or seasonings, for a slightly sweet and tangy flavor.
Creating Seasonings and Sauces With the Japanese Golden Ratio
There are many dishes that can be seasoned with the golden ratio, as well as many sauces that can be made. Remembering the proper ratio for each particular dish can be overwhelming at first, but the more you use the three main ingredients, the more you will begin to remember the ratio for each dish, as well as taste the subtle differences in each.
For starters, a basic rule of the golden ratio is to mix the first three ingredients in an 8:1:1 ratio, with eight parts of dashi to one part each of soy sauce and mirin. This ratio forms the perfect balance of sweet, salty and umami flavors!
Using the Japanese Golden Ratio for Basic Seasoning
The golden ratios to add flavor and seasoning to the following dishes are listed below, using dashi broth, soy sauce, and mirin.
Hot soup for udon or soba noodles
10:1:1 (example: 10 oz dashi, 1oz soy sauce, 1oz mirin. If you want to double it, 20 oz, 2 oz, 2oz, etc.)
You can then garnish a hot bowl of noodle soup with an assortment of hearty vegetables, or top it with deep-fried tofu or tempura.
Cold dipping sauce for udon, soba, or somen noodles
This is an ideal dipping sauce for a cold summer noodle dish.
Tempura dipping sauce
If you ever wondered how to make tempura sauce, now you can finally see how easy it is!
Sauce for tempura bowl (tempura on top of rice)
Slightly different than a tempura dipping sauce, this golden ratio serves to add flavor to the dish without being too overwhelming.
Sauce for other kinds of Japanese bowl dishes (oyako don, katsu don, etc.)
Sauce for tofu
This easy-to-make sauce can be used to upgrade your tofu flavors.
Takikomi Gohan (Japanese mixed rice.)
Typical ingredients for Takikomi Gohan include chicken, shiitake mushrooms, etc. You can use the dashi, soy sauce, mirin mixture to steam the rice instead of water, serving to develop a rich umami flavor in the rice.
Using the Japanese Golden Ratio to Simmer Food
When simmering vegetables or fish, use otoshi-buta (drop lid) and simmer over low heat until most of the sauce is gone.
To simmer vegetables
To simmer fish
Using the Japanese Golden Ratio for Soups
Hot pot soup
Alternative Seasonings and Sauces with the Japanese Golden Ratio
These golden ratios utilize some of the other ingredients described above, for more distinctive flavoring.
Sake: soy sauce: mirin = 1: 1: 1
One part sake, one part soy sauce, and one part mirin will create a typical “Japanese” flavor. It’s very easy to remember and usable with basically anything. If you find yourself becoming overwhelmed at first with all the different golden ratios, this is the one to remember.
Miso: sugar: sake: mirin = 3: 1: 1: 1
If you want to stir-fry vegetables or meats and add a distinctive miso flavor, use this golden ratio. You can also put the miso glaze on top of eggplant to make nasu dengaku, put it on tofu, etc.
Salt: minced garlic: sesame oil: sake = 1: 2: 3: 4
If you want a simple Japanese flavor with a touch more salt, try this golden ratio. It works very well when cooking thinly sliced meat or vegetables, or to make salt-flavored yaki soba (stir-fried noodles).
Japanese vinegar: sugar: soy sauce = 3: 3: 1
This golden ratio will make a sweet and sour flavoring. Try it with shrimp, vegetables, or meatballs.
Over time, as you become better acquainted with the different flavors of the golden ratios, you can certainly experiment by adding some additional ingredients or adjust them to suit your own palate.