Japan’s national drink is more versatile than people might think. An increasingly popular alternative to wine, sake is turning business around for Japan’s 1,800 sake breweries.
John Gauntner, the world’s leading non-Japanese sake expert, shares his top tips on how to choose a sake and his recommendations for the best food pairings with sake.
How to select a sake
Selecting sake is like selecting wine; every sake is different. Sake is made from rice, so the more finely milled it is, the more refined it will be. Sake is fairly priced in that the more you pay, the better the sake – at least technically.
There are two words to look for when choosing sake:
When serving sake, most premium sake is better slightly chilled, like a white wine. But there are exceptions to this, and the world of warmed premium sake is one of endless fun and satisfaction. With so many options to hand, the best way to educate your palette is to try a variety of sake brands and grades to see what you like best.
Foods to pair with sake
Many types of sake have a creamy, rice-tinged flavour, making them perfect for showcasing the taste and texture of fleshy oysters. The acidity of the sake cleanses and refreshes the palate, readying it for the next mouthful, and a subtlety sweet sake will also embrace the salinity found in many oysters.
Fried calamari is perfect with a chilled sparkling sake. Varieties with enough acidity will balance the oil of the fried squid and combine with the light umani of the fish to create complex flavours.
Prosciutto and cheese
A rich, sweet sake will lure out the savoury flavours of the strong saltiness of the ham, while an aged sake that offers a full, nutty aroma deepens the flavour of cheeses such as mature cheddar, Parmesan and blue cheese.
Sake also matches surprisingly well with vegetables that have a slight bitterness - such as asparagus, Brussels sprouts or arugula.
The only foods to avoid with sake are spicy food, strong sauces or overly rich and fatty dishes, which tend to overpower the subtle favours in sake.
So, the next time you find yourself ordering oysters in a restaurant, impress your friends by asking for a glass of sake!
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