Pairing wine with cuisine is commonly known overseas, but sake enthusiasts are looking to introduce sake pairings with well-known Japanese dishes. This article will introduce readers to the different types of sake while comparing it with wine, the basic rules for sake pairings, and the role of sake in food pairings. Finally, we will share some of our favorite sake and food pairings!
There are four main types of sake: pure rice (Junmai), ordinary (Honjozo), Ginjo and Nigori. Junmai is created solely from rice, yeast, and water and is heralded as the drink’s purest form.
The brewing principles of Honjozo Sake are the same as those of Junmai. However, instead of generating its entire alcohol content from fermentation, brewer’s alcohol is added to fortify the rice wine.
What differentiates Ginjo sake from Junmai is the level to which the rice used is milled, or polished. Around 60% of the existing bran remains, and with the addition of a little brewer’s alcohol, the result is a dry, aromatic beverage. Finally, Nigori sake is characterized by its cloudiness resulting from coarse pressing.
Basic rules of thumb for sake flavor profiles
First and foremost, you must define the flavor profile of the sake to build a picture of the foods or dishes it might complement. There are four key flavor profiles: (1) rich and sweet, (2) rich and dry, (3) light and sweet and (4) light and dry.
Rich and sweet sake is very aromatic and best enjoyed with umami-packed dishes. Rich and dry sake works well with meat because of its robust rice flavor. Light and sweet sake perfectly complement sashimi, sushi and other delicate fish dishes. And light and sweet sake marry well with tempura, grilled fish, and white meats.
In the end, the type of sake you choose must be one that you find palatable, regardless of what you wish to pair it with. Ultimately, if you don’t enjoy the flavor profile of the sake, you won’t enjoy its impact on your meal.
The role of sake in elevating cuisine
While wine has long been the leader in food pairings, sake is hot on its heels. Why? Because of its versatility. Sake isn’t confined to Japanese cuisine, and any cuisine can welcome sake as an accompanying beverage using the principles and flavor profiles outlined above.
Beyond this, sake’s versatility comes from its drinkability. It isn’t acidic, like wine, and is gentle on the stomach, enabling diners to enjoy their meals more comfortably, with the bonus of a refined and complex combination of flavors in the mouth.
Instead of giving a flavor punch, as many wines do, taking a sip of sake between bites will cleanse the palate. This enables diners to savor both the meal and the beverage in equal measure.
Our sake pairing recommendations
With the rice flavor defining Junmai sake, pairing it with foods that go well with steamed white rice is ideal. This opens up the floodgates, but we think the best dishes are hearty meat curries, like Beef Rendang, fried chicken, and grilled meats.
Honjozo sake is refreshing and best served cool. We think the best way to enjoy it is with a fresh sushi roll or a chicken Caesar salad. With its refined, fruity taste, Ginjo sake is best paired with light appetizers like carpaccio of beef or simple sashimi.
Finally, Nigori sake, with its creamy finish, is an excellent cooling accompaniment to spicy noodles and Mexican chili dishes and a perfect partner with deserts too.