Thanks to the natural umami content of sake resulting from the fermentation of rice, when you pair sake with food you can get some delicious flavour combinations – sometimes in the most unexpected ways.
For instance, the combination of raw oysters with Aki no Ta Junmai Ginjo from Hideyoshi Sake Brewery in Akita Prefecture is sublime with the salty notes in the sake enhancing the minerality of the oysters and the fruit highlights in the sake mean you don’t even need any additional seasoning for oysters to enjoy them in their full glory.
One of the easiest ways to match sake with food is to use the more flavoursome Junmai sake with its higher acidity. As it naturally contains umami savouriness it works to enrich the meaty flavours of food whether meat, oily fish or mature cheese.
When it comes to the richly succulent flavours of Iberico Pork nothing works better to both match and enhance the rich savouriness of the pork than Junmai sake and the Hideyoshi Kanshibori Junmai Nama Genshu, with its savoury elements is a match made in heaven.
Even if Junmai sake has a light elegance to it such as our Koimari Saki Junmai Yamadanishiki Zenryo, the umami content can still enhance the delicious savouriness of smoked eel and sweet savouriness of lobster while, at the same time, enhancing the fragrant elements of the food with its light, fruity aromatics of peach and apricot.
So how can you discover some wonderfully delicious pairings? One way is to take hints from the tasting notes.
Written in collaboration with Laurent Richet, Head Sommelier at Restaurant Sat Bains with Rooms our Lachamte is described as “A lively, fruity, sparkling sake with delightful notes of white peach, strawberry and honeysuckle underscored by hints of toasted almonds and minerality.” so we served it as a welcome drink at an event held at Brindisa in February alongside their almonds and it was a great combination with the almonds bringing out the notes of almond in the Lachamte and the sake in turn enhancing the natural sweetness of the almonds.
We have also found a beautiful pairing for Koimari Saki Ginjo with its flavours of lychee and young red shiso leaves and the pre-dessert palate cleanser of aloe vera, lime and lychee served at The Rabbit in The Moon in June. The pairing gave the lychee an additional burst of flavour and created lovely aromatics in the mouth.
While there are few spices in traditional Japanese cuisine, red chilli pepper is occasionally used as is green chilli in the yuzu kosho fermented paste and, while sake can be overpowered by hot chilli pepper sometimes the acidity and spicy notes in sake can add an additional warmth to subtly spiced dishes. Amakarapin, with its spicy, clean finish gave an additional warmth to the XO sauce which the scallops and duck tongues were served with at The Rabbit in The Moon.
In contrast, sweeter sake, sake with a silky texture on the palate or unpasteurised “nama” sake can absorb some of the spice of a dish at the same time as boosting the savoury elements of the food. The Hideyoshi Kanshibori Junmai Nama Genshu is ideal for pairing with spice as it is not only unpasteurised but has sweet and savoury elements to it.
Texture can also play a part when matching sake with food and the fragrant and easy-drinking Brewer’s Perfection works extremely well with the silkiness of a fillet of beef.
Finally, there are always some interesting and surprising flavours brought out when combining food with sake. While Amakarapin Junmai was chosen to accompany the hand-dived scallops with duck tongues at The Rabbit in The Moon, it also had a wonderful effect on the flavour of the beansprouts in the dish bringing out their fresh, sweet, earthiness.
We also often select Azumacho Honjozo for pairing with dishes which have lots of different flavour elements as it is full of character with luscious dry Middle Eastern fruit aromatics and has a lovely creamy mouthfeel with sweeter elements. For a Honjozo it has a beautiful complexity and not only made a beautiful combination to the Scottish Langoustine served on sesame toast with a hot and sour beef soup at The Rabbit in The Moon but it also elevated the aromatic flavour of the sesame toast. Yet, when paired with a completely different dish of tortilla and padron peppers at Brindisa it brought out the lovely sweet, vegetative flavour in the pepper proving the versatility of sake.
Another way that sake shows versatility is the temperature at which it can be served and serving Katafune Junmai warm with its traditional style of rich rice notes also served to be a wonderful companion to the warm plate of Iberico pork at Brindisa.
So, whether you select sake to enhance specific flavours in the food it is served with or to compliment the texture or temperature of the dish, in addition to bolstering the main flavours it can also highlight previously undiscovered flavours. The right combination can mean the difference between a delicious and an amazing meal.