101 - How To Cook With Saké
Photo of saké at the SakeOne (producer of Momokawa and Moonstone), tasting room in Forest Grove, OR. The home of the only American owned and produced saké. My tour of their saké making facilities is what inspired me to write the following article.
Good sake is not served hot! It is brewed like beer but is actually a wine that is tasted and served like a white wine.
Saké is something of a hybrid between beer and wine, with its production and shelf life resembling beer brewing and its taste and body more similar to wine. Sake is an all-natural rice-based fermented alcoholic beverage, which is made from four main ingredients: rice, water, yeast, and koji (an enzyme). With so many varieties of white rice alone, of which only about 50 are suitable, the taste rests on, above all, the quality of the rice and water.
Sakés are not bottled with a vintage. The vast majority are not aged past six months and are designed to be consumed quickly, not cellared like wine. It does not age like wine and is best when fresh. It has a shelf life of approximately 2 years. Once opened, saké will stay fresh for approximately 1 week in the refrigerator. It is recommended that saké be served at 45 degrees F. (7 degrees C). Saké should also be store in a cool place, out of strong light.
Top quality sakés (Ginjo grade or higher) are best if drunk at room temperature to chilled. Good saké is most often served chilled, while mediocre saké is generally served hot to mask flavors. Think of saké like it is a fine chardonnay wine, which is very nice if served at room temperature, still quite nice and maybe a bit more refreshing if served chilled, but then loses all its flavor if served ice cold.
For years, most Americans identified saké with the teapots used to warm it up and the small ceramic glasses into which the steaming liquid was poured. But this step wasn’t just aesthetic, it was to cover up the poor quality of saké being served. So put away that saké warmer, and serve your saké in your best wine glasses, as many upscale Japanese restaurants do today), and experience one of the most interesting traditions in the world of potables.
The tasting technique for saké is essentially the same as you would a wine, swishing the saké around your mouth to make sure it reaches the taste buds on the underside of the tongue as well.
Today, saké is used as an aperitif, mixing it in cocktails, pairing it with all kinds of food at the dinner table, and even using it as a cooking ingredient. Cooking with sake can be a pleasure and an enhancement to good food and a fine meal!
The first and most important rule: Use only sakes in your cooking that you would drink. Never, never use any sake that you WOULD NOT DRINK! If your do not like the taste of a sake, you will not like the dish you choose to use it in. The process of cooking/reducing will bring out the worst in an inferior sake. Please promise yourself never, never to stoop to such a product! Linda's rule of thumb is: I do not cook with something I will not drink.
An expensive saké is not necessary, although a cheap saké will not bring out the best characteristics of your dish. A good quality saké that you enjoy, will provide the same flavor to a dish as a good quality wine. Save the premium saké to serve with the meal. For best results, saké, just like wine, should not be added to a dish just before serving. It should simmer with the food, or sauce, to enhance the flavor of the dish. If added late in the preparation, it could impart a harsh quality.
The function of any alcoholic drink in cooking is to intensify, enhance and accent the flavor and aroma of food - not to mask the flavor of what you are cooking but rather to fortify it. As with any seasoning used in cooking, care should be taken in the amount of saké used - too little is inconsequential and too much will be overpowering. Neither extreme is desirable. A small quantity of saké will enhance the flavor of the dish. The alcohol in the saké evaporates while the food is cooking, and only the flavor remains.
View saké as a white wine! Select foods to go with it just as you would pair a chardonnay, pinot gris, riesling, or other white wine with food. As with wine, saké will work well with some food, less well with others. The object of the game is to enhance the food, the saké, and/or hopefully both. Either match a saké with a dish that has similar or complementary flavors, or pair the saké and food for their contrast. Perhaps most importantly, realize that saké is not limited to Japanese (or even Asian food), and saké is definitely no longer just for sushi!
There are several styles of saké, from dry to sweet, from delicate to robust, just as there are different styles of white grape based wines. Saké pairs well with fish, chicken, pasta, and pork. Sweeter saké is great for spicy food and wonderful with desserts, especially berries and chocolate.
Check out my day at the Sakéry
Learn how sake is made
2 ˝ ounce Gin or Vodka
Pour gin or vodka, saké>, and orange liqueur into an iced mixing glass or tumbler; stir 30 times with a bar spoon, or shake ten times.
Pour the ice out of your Martini glass. Strain into
glass and serve.
entirely new class of cocktails, saketinis, has been
developed that takes advantage of sake's ability to
blend with other flavors.
Wasabi Bloody Mary
Serve on the rocks. Stuffed olives and celery
Shake with ice and strain into a martini glass.
Garnish with orange slice.
Serve on the rocks.
Shake with ice and strain. Sprinkle with ground nutmeg.
Chocolate Pearl Saké Cake