On February 24th, 2021, I had the honor of joining acclaimed chef and restaurateur, Charlie Palmer and food photographer/documentarian and Wagyu specialist, Ben Hon on a live virtual event called The Ultimate Japanese Experience. Ben taught us all about Wagyu Beef, which was generously provided by Royal Wagyu Supply. Chef Charlie Palmer created two recipes with two different cooking methods to show the characteristics of the various cuts of meat we used. Sake Social selected two premium sakes for this event - SOTO Junmai Daiginjo and Kuroushi Omachi Junmai Ginjo and I had the joy of explaining the differences between them and why they paired so well together with the dishes we cooked. Even though these are both premium sakes, one is lighter and more delicate than the other. One of the main reasons for this is the rice choice. Not all sake rice strains and varieties are created equal, as you will see.
In this blog post, I will take you through a tasting of these sakes. I will also share with you the recipe that was created specifically for each of these brews. We really enjoyed participating in this event and I hope the pairings inspire you to try a new sake or a new recipe. Kanpai!
THE ULTIMATE JAPANESE EXPERIENCE: SAKES AND FOOD PAIRING
The SOTO Junmai Daiginjo sake is made in Niigata, which is about 250 kilometers north of Tokyo. It snows every year in Niigata and it collects especially well in the mountains. When the snow melts, it goes into nearby lakes and streams; that is the water used in this sake.
The Gohyakumangoku sake rice they used is local to Niigata. The sake made from this rice is aromatic, clean, and crisp. The rice doesn’t grow as tall as most other rice varieties so they are better able to withstand high winds and won’t damage as easily in inclement weather. At 50% polishing ratio (the grains of rice are polished to at least 50% of their original size), this sake is a true Junmai Daiginjo.
Remember, Junmai means “pure rice,” meaning no ingredients other than rice, water, yeast, and koji were used to make the sake. This is important to note, as many producers will add distilled alcohol to the sake to round out the flavors and to balance out its character. This only temporarily raises the alcohol level and then it is diluted and brought down to the more drinkable level of 15-17% alcohol. Dai means “big” and seeing Ginjo anywhere on a sake label tells you the sake is fruity, floral, and delicate. Premium and super premium sakes are always best served chilled, at 50 F.
The WAGYU skewers are seasoned with savoury ingredients like shiitake mushrooms, fennel, and seaweed. The grilling caramelizes the meat on the outside but it is still very tender on the center. The fat of the beef literally melts in your mouth. The sake pairing, SOTO Junmai Daiginjo is perfect here. It has refreshing notes of Persian cucumber, honeydew melon, lemon peel, black licorice, floral jasmine, green pear skin and just enough acidity to balance the fat in the meat. The long pleasant, almost velvety finish really makes you appreciate the quality of this sake. It has good alcohol content at 16%, but since it is so smooth, you hardly notice it.
The second sake pairing of the event was Kuroushi Omachi Junmai Ginjo. The Nate Shuzo Honten Brewery is located south of Tokyo on the island of Honshu. While this is also a premium sake, the rice that is used in this one is very different. It is called Omachi and is a very old variety that has been grown in Japan since 1859. Compared to other sake rice varieties, Omachi has a larger core and koji mold spores are better able to grow into it, adding more amino acids to the sake, which equals more flavor.
Sakes produced with this rice are richer and fuller in taste and texture. It is very apparent in the Kuroushi Omachi, which has the floral fruitiness you would expect of a Ginjo sake, as well as very savoury aromas and tasting notes. The floral aromas are herbaceous then the slightly sweet honeyed hazelnuts, rice milk, and savoury notes of wet mushrooms and sea water round it all up. There is a long finish with good acid balance. The alcohol is at 16.5%, but again, is so wonderfully blended that you almost forget it’s there.
The root vegetables in the bone broth and the brightness of the scallions, fennel and lemon zest really bring. The meat is very briefly swished in the broth, so that it is not overcooked. The beauty of the Wagyu shines in this simple, but delicious preparation. Nothing is overpowering here. This pairing is what is called a "perfect marriage."
Download the recipes here or preview below