Greetings sake lovers!
One of the questions you will often hear people ask about sake is: “are there any foods that you can’t pair with it?”. It’s certainly a question that will stop even a sake PRO in their tracks. Our British sake expert Chris tells us that in his country recent experimental sake pairings include curry, Sunday roasts, oysters, white truffle and even that most British of exports fish and chips, all of which have been pulled off with aplomb — suggesting that sake will pair with pretty much everything under the sun, providing of course, that you find the right types etc.
In Japan, sake is usually enjoyed with a little snack called an Otsumami (LIT: finger food) or Sakana (not to be confused with the Japanese word for fish). It’s a bit like Spanish tapas… only for sake.
At KURAND too, food matching is an integral part of the experience. We don’t just allow the bringing in of food into our bars, we encourage it. One very interesting trend that we are seeing a lot lately is home cooking in little Tupperware boxes which customers bring to share with everyone else.
Faced with the inevitability of being quizzed about various sake & food combinations our staff have been doing their homework: every week, pitting different local delicacies up against the KURAND sake lineup and publishing their findings in a series of case studies over on their blogs. In this new food-pairing series, we present you a little English language digest of those studies. Why don’t we get the ball rolling. Sake paired with kebab? Demi-glace sauce, Mexican tacos? Avocado? Let the sake pairing trials commence!
Provided by Nagata san, the manager of our Ikebukuro branch
In the west, Demiglace-sauce is normally associated with steak but in Japan, they often pair it with Hamburger. If you have never tried this combination, we can’t recommend it enough. For this pairing case study, he opted for the hamburger option.
3 Sake Pairings from the KURAND selection
1. Shuho Junmai Ginjo Genshu Dewa no Sato
First he tried pairing with Shuho junmai ginjo dewa no sato with its mild sweetness and modest aroma. The sake’s sweetness harmonised well with the mild flavour of the sauce and enhanced the savoury qualities of the meat. Nagata san claims that the dish was far tastier with the sake than without.
2. Sake selling dog, sake making cat, limited edition summer sake
“This sake’s strong point is its mild sweet ricey flavour and refreshing aftertaste. The buttery qualities of this sake were a perfect match for the sweetness of the meat fats. The strong flavour of the sauce was trimmed away nicely by the sleek finish of the sake”.
3. Hakkouro Gouriki Junmai Ginjo Kasumisake
“With a very gentle mouthfeel, this sake’s finish is crisp and leaves behind a clear impression of the UMAMI and sweetness from the rice”.
“The robust character of this sake and umami are more than able to hold their own against the weight of the sauce and hamburger”. Nagata san suggests serving the sake at a slightly warmer 40 degrees to increase this compatibility. He concludes that out of the three he tried this sake was the best match.
Notes from Chris: With Demi-glace sauce there are 3 main components that you have to try and match: sweetness, weight and richness. In general, you are looking for something robust (full-bodied) with a little weight and perhaps a touch of viscosity; a thinly cut Junmai Daiginjo is just not going to get a look in against the sauce. However, you also have to take into account the mildness of the sauce. As sauces go, there are stronger flavours out there. So be careful not to choose a sake that is too overpowering. A sake with a little sweetness is obviously going to provide a nice complement but it’s the safe option. A nice mild, well-rounded dry sake with plenty of body is going to provide you with much more of a taste challenge but the combination might be all the better for it. Aged sakes would make for an interesting wild card. Personally, I would say that Nagata san got the pairing spot on with number 3. Kasumisake is a type of cloudy sake and I think most cloudy sakes are going to be game. Aim for something with a wash to clean away all the sticky parts of the sauce afterwards. Finally, correct order for this pairing would be food followed by sake, not the other way around.
Tasting Pointers: Match the richness of the sauce with a robust sake. Match the sweetness with an equally sweet
sake — the more UMAMI rich the better. Match the weight of the sauce with an equally heavy sake.
Grilled mackerel with salt
This second pairing was also provided by Nagata san. Saba(mackerel) Shioyaki is a popular dish in Japan and is served at different times of the day including breakfast. While sake with your breakfast — even in Japan — might be an adventure too far, you might fancy a tipple at lunch or with dinner. Either way, mackerel and sake are natural bedmates.
mackerel contains zero sugars and no carbohydrates making this a healthy option as well. We would like to go as far as to recommend it to those trying to cut down on their sugars but that would be one cruel temptation too far.
The mackerel used for this case study was sourced from the local convenience store (unlike convenience stores you find in other countries, in Japan they are treasure troves of affordable, delicious morsels. According to the marketing on the packet, this particular mackerel was grilled using something called far-infrared technology which plumps up the fish just nicely.
The fish just gets juicier with every bite releasing more and more UMAMI. You are left with a little sweetness on the finish. Most convenience stores even go to the trouble of deboning the mackerel for you before they packet it, so it’s a great no-fuss sake pairing option.
Okay then, let’s find out what sake Nagata san paired.
3 Sake Pairings from the KURAND selection
1. Tokubetsu Junmai Harada Muroka Nama Genshu
“This sake has a rich aroma and would be best summed up as fresh. With a slight hint of sweetness its overall palate is relaxed and uncomplicated”.
“It’s really the sweetness in this sake that melds so well with the mackerel”, explains Nagata san. The finish is also equally as relaxed. My chopsticks were kept very busy. (laughs)
2. Tamaasahi Desperado
Next he tried this even fresher sake with a little more acidity and a powerful juicy UMAMI centre, although it is the crisp finish that is the key characteristic.
This sake packs as powerful an UMAMI punch as the mackerel, so you have the maximum taste experience. The wash of this sake wipes away any decadent fatty flavours that threaten to linger to long.
3. Gunma Izumi Yamahai Honjozo
From the outset, the smoothness of Gunma Izumi tells you it is not your typical Yamahai. It still delivers in the UMAMI department though.
“The two UMAMI laden beasts wrap their savoury tongues around one another to deliver a burst of flavour. The acidity that lines the sake’s edges billows nicely trapping in all the flavours for a long joyride of a taste experience. You can really feel all that glutamate goodness on the tongue. All the fatty parts of the fish are mitigated nicely by this acidity. Personally, I think this was the best match out of the three”.
Notes from Chris: With mackerel prepared this way, there are two things you have to match: the fattiness or oiliness and the saltyness. Highly acidic sakes do a great job of mitigating the oiliness but they also sometimes accentuate salty flavours. Finding balance is key. It is probably best to use the wash to clean away the oiliness and avoid acidity altogether. Additionally, dry sakes and salty flavours usually complement each other quite well. It was probably the dry palate of Nagata san’s last choice that made that pairing work more than anything else. Of course you need UMAMI, but again, it is probably best to choose relaxed, light sakes over rich, heavy ones. That is if you want to enjoy the fish and sake in equal measure. Sake with a bit of an aroma would help cancel out the fishy smells of the makerel. The wild card option for me would be a Junmai Ginjo or Ginjo erring on the lighter side but with plenty of UMAMI. Over on ‘Seriouseats.com’ they made very interesting suggestion which gets its inspiration from sherry & sardines: “Another excellent option for these oily fish is a junmai sake that has a briny, saline quality”. The article is a little old, but no less relevant. Original article: http://drinks.seriouseats.com/2011/06/sake-school-sake-pairing-fish-with-sake.html
This pairing was supplied by Nishii san, the manager of our Asakusa branch.
Avocado is one of those things that you can prepare on a whim, even when you don’t have much time and makes a surprisingly good little Otsumami for sake. The avocado used for this case study was prepared as in the photograph above and seasoned with olive oil, sesame oil, salt & black pepper. We supply chopping boards and knives at our branches so why not bring some avocado along and try it yourself.
Nishii san calls this dish Avocado OLS (avocado + olive oil).
He paired the avocado with Gunma Izumi Junmai Ginjo Usumidori which is Yamahai with higher acidity than other types of sake. It’s quite a mild sake though which matches the laid back nature of the dish.
Notes from Chris: With avocado there are two things you have to match: the oiliness and fattiness of the fruit and simple nature of it. I believe zesty white wines make a good match for avocado, so I would try and find something similar with sake too. I would try to find a buttery Nama sake with medium acidity and plenty of citrus notes. I think the earthy nature of most Kimotos would also help bring out that rustic quality of avocado.
The next time you are in Tokyo, Why not stop by and find out which sakes pair with which foods yourself at KURAND.
To be continued in Part 2