Continuing on with this Tabi Labo interview with Marie Chiba where she gives her tips for recreating the kind of sake pairings you’d get at her bar/restaurant GEM by moto – in the comfort of your own home.
Part 1 of the article was all about superheated taruzake with soba soup, doburoku + soda = dobu-soda with ramen, doburoku sauce and dressing, koshu with dried foods… what’s next?
Mask the fishiness of sashimi with sansho pepper and olive oil
A lot of people pair sake with sashimi. But, Chiba pleads, please try raw fish with olive oil instead. Matured sake goes well with it, but a lot of sake available in the spring is fresh so at this time of year olive oil will mask any raw smell from the fish.
Just pour over some olive oil, making the sashimi into carpaccio, to mask unwanted smells. Chiba was amazed at how well they go together. If you’re pairing with sake, using olive oil as the oil makes everything delicious.
You might think of squeezing a lemon or lime to add some freshness, but it actually makes the flavours sour. The trend these days is to add some interest to the aroma, but not too much. Chiba adds that if you find the flavour of sake too heavy, just modifying the aroma to be sweeter will make it seem very different. Try adding a bit of sansho to bring some freshness.
The easiest things to try at home: add sansho to clear sake or nigori, or add cinnamon to koshu
Just a pinch of sansho in clear sake or nigori can makes them delicious, Chiba insists. If you like it, keep on adding more! The sake ends up a bit like limoncello.
Amber, fragrant koshu is great with some cinnamon. Its sweet aroma is a great match for the aged aromas of koshu and makes it very drinkable.
The detection threshold for flavour components in cinnamon is low, so adding just a little will give you plenty of aroma. You only need a tiny bit!
Dried fruit or herbs go with both sake and wine
One popular but very simple side dish is iburigakko [smoked pickled radish] topped with cream cheese. To spice it up, Chiba suggests chopping some dried fig or persimmon and mixing it in. They even sell dried fruit in 100 yen shops and it goes with anything. You can just eat them on their own while sipping some koshu.
If you’re serving sake and wine together, and choose something spicy or salty to go with the sake, it might not work with the wine. Choose side dishes with with fruity characteristics, or top them with some chopped mint or dill, and serve on crackers to make finger food for a party.
Drink sake on the rocks, or diluted with water
One technique Chiba uses is konai chōmi [口内調味, “seasoning in the mouth”], where the balance of flavours is altered inside the mouth. It goes well with Japanese food culture. So by that reasoning it’s fine to blend sake, or dilute it with water, or have it on the rocks.
Unlike wine, you can control the temperature of sake to draw out aroma, and there are tricks to making it seem sweeter or more acidic. For Chiba, it’s all these ways of fine tuning that make it so interesting.
Fruit, chocolate… you can choose sake by smell
Even without being paired with anything, sake today has evolved to the point where it can smell like fruit, or even chocolate, even though it doesn’t contain any. Which, to Chiba, means there’s much fun to be had in choosing based on aroma.
For example, Eikun smells of melon, and Emishiki like muscat grapes. Jōkigen smells like bananas, Miyoshigiku like pineapple and Yamagata Masamume of lychee.
Aramasa has notes of peach, so it’s fun to pair it with momo-no-shiroae. [桃の白和え, peach with a white tofu sauce] It’s made with white kōji, so the pairing emphasised the citric acid makes it like lemon. It’s a bit harder to tell aromas with cloudy sake, but if you want to smell strawberry then go for doburoku.
For chocolate, Masuizumi kijoshu. It has a really mature aroma, so it has a divine chocolate smell. You can choose a sake like this, just using the smell.
Chiba urges readers to try out some of the pairings and tips she’s given, certain that once you start you’ll become fascinated with it. What goes together and what doesn’t, try it all out. It could even make you more thoughtful about the seasonings you use when cooking.