Choosing wine to pair with food can be a daunting prospect; there are some foods in particular that are notoriously difficult to match. Cue the increasingly popularity of sake in food pairing. There is an old Japanese proverb which translates roughly as 'sake doesn't fight with food'; although brewed like a beer, sake is drunk more like a wine and can be a great option for solving your pairing problems.
Sake is also not just for yakitori or sashimi. JFOODO, the Japanese trade organisation that promotes Japanese food and drink overseas, is currently running a Sake Seafood Sensations promotion with a number of London restaurants showcasing how well sake pairs with seafood (check out our article on the sake & oyster bar at Ichiba for my first-hand experience of this).
This sake pairing dinner was organised by Ken Takehisa of Usui Shoten Brewery in Nagano, makers of Monten and Monsay sake, and Abe Tsunenori of Otone Shuzo Brewery in Gunma, makers of Sadaijin sake. Their super-premium sake has won multiple awards in recent competitions including IWC and Kura Master, and they are currently looking for a UK importer.
To highlight the versatility of sake and how it can enhance a whole range of flavours they chose a number of dishes that are typically difficult to pair with wine , including some traditional British dishes, and paired them instead with premium sake from their terroir-driven breweries.
The first course was a prawn, lime & coriander ceviche with spiced mango and avocado, paired with Monsay Gold (a smooth, aromatic junmai ginjo sake with a long finish) and Sadaijin Hana-ichi-monme. Sake is fabulous with fish and seafood as its high amino acid content compliments the strong umami notes in the food.
The Thai baked wild bass, coconut rice & ponzu-glazed pak choi was paired with Monsay Purple, a junmai sake brewed with hard spring water, bringing a delicate but crisp minerality to the match.
Next was roast saddle of lamb with braised barley, spiced aubergine and mint & pomegranate salad, paired with Monsay black, a junmai made using the ancient kimoto method with an intriguing complexity and roundness.
The next course was, for me, the most challenging; a Scotch Egg made with a Burford Brown egg & Macsween haggis and served with house made piccalilli, paired with Sadaijin junmai from the GI Tone-Numata. This GI has extremely stringent criteria covering the use of local water and specific types of rice and can be compared to a PDO in European wine.
Eggs are famously difficult to pair with wine, without the extra headaches of rich meat and offal plus a spicy, acidic pickle. The umami-rich junmai complemented these big flavours beautifully, enhancing the umami rather than fighting it and improving both.
Dessert was yuzu & gooseberry tart, paired with Monsay Blue and Inishie Long Aged sakes. The Monsay Blue, an elegant junmai daiginjo, seemed to bridge the sweetness and tartness of the dish. Most sakes sold in the UK are designed to be kept away from light, chilled and drunk young, but koshu, or aged sake, was once common and prized in the same way we would prize an aged whisky or wine. During the Meiji period (1868-1912) the government taxed sake producers just for brewing sake rather than selling it - hence there was little incentive to keep it longer than was absolutely necessary. This was complex and delicious, with notes of Brazil nut and dark caramel .
I feel that there may be a building of momentum in sake and the UK dining scene, starting with restaurants predominantly serving seafood and then branching out to .the aged sakes It can be a challenging concept for the diner, particularly if they are used to the terms of wine tasting, but just try it; I promise it will open up a whole new journey in food pairing.
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Deputy Editor, Chatting Food London: Amanda David
Amanda David is a freelance food writer specialising in London’s restaurants, bars, exhibitions and events. She is the Events Editor for London Cheapo and a regular contributor to Palate Magazine.
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