Aug 22, 2012

Sipping and Savoring Sake

Hot Sake For Two
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From the early days of Japanese immigration to the present, Hawaii has been sipping and savoring sake. Today there is a great variety of delicious sake being served in restaurants in Honolulu and other parts of the state. Honolulu has more sake-serving restaurants per capita than any other city in the country. On July 20, 2012, the largest sake tasting event outside of Japan was held in Honolulu, called "The Joy of Sake". 10 judges from Japan and the U.S. evaluated aroma, taste, balance and overall impression for each sake entry. Sakes with the highest scores receive gold and silver awards, and all 360+ entries were available for tasting by the public. Obviously the popularity of sake in Hawaii is at an all time high.

What is Sake?
Sake is a 6,800 year old, all-natural fermented alcoholic beverage made from four main ingredients: rice, water, yeast and koji (malted rice) — an enzyme that converts starch into sugar, and lends a prominent and delightful flavor. Since water comprises 80% of the sake, local Japanese breweries pride themselves on the quality of their water. Sake is essentially brewed like beer but the end product is served like wine, with very similar alcohol content and tasting characteristics. Like wines, a sake can also be defined either as dry or sweet as its basic characteristics. The Nihonshu-do, or Sake Meter Value (SMV) is a measure of the density of the sake relative to water. It is a very general reference to the sweetness or dryness of a sake. There are five different grades of sake, all determined by the brewing method and quality of ingredients. Especially important is the level of seimei, the process of polishing the outer layers of rice. The protein and fats contained in the outer layers reduce the quality of the end result, and thus, the best types of sake are made with rice that has been reduced to 50% or more of its size.

Buying and Storing Sake
You may also come across sake labeled amaguchi (sweet) or karakuchi (dry), but this refers to the taste of the sake, not its ingredients or quality. What type of sake should you try? It depends on your taste, but Junmai-ginjo, (pure rice premium sake) is the most popular type of specialty sake in the West, appreciated for its light, fruity flavor. Junmai-daiginjyo (pure rice super premium sake) is drier, and represents sake at its best. Unlike wine, sake does not improve with age, and thus, freshness is important. Keep good-quality sake in a cool place, and once opened, make sure to keep it refrigerated and consume within a reasonable time.

Serving Sake
While regular sake is usually served warm, the premium types are best served chilled. This is because experts claim that each type of sake has its own distinct optimum temperature, but few people have such patience or knowledge. If you go to a specialty sake bar in Japan, you can be sure it will be served correctly. For serving cold sake, glasstokkuri and specially made sake glasses that amplify sake's refined fragrance are now popular. In the warm season, sake is often served in freshly cut green bamboo, fashioned into cups.

Cooking with Sake
Sake is not only fun to drink, but it is also delicious to cook with. You can poach with it, marinate with it, make salad dressings with it, anything you can do with wine you can do with sake. I suggest using a cooking sake called ryori in Japan. One brand I like to cook with is "Sho Chiku Bai Classic". It is the best selling brand of sake in the U.S., and sells for around $5.00 for a 1.5 LTR bottle at ClubBev.

Sake recipes:

"Roy's Saketini" – Sake Vodka Martini
"Roy's Saketini" – Sake Vodka Martini
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I was first introduced to this cocktail in San Francisco in 1966 by my friend Roy Omi. Roy's family owned a Japanese restaurant on California Street. I have found several recipes for Saketini's, but I like this one best. The hardest thing is finding the acitic and sweet tasting pickled ginger sprouts that garnish and flavor this drink. They are about 5 inches long, 1/4 inch round, and are colored red. They come in a 11.5 ounce jar of 25 sprouts, and are made by Wel-Pac, Hajikami, and are distributed by JFC International Inc, South San Francisco, CA. You can sometimes find them in Japanese grocery stores. Fortunately my son sends me a bottle of ginger sprouts every Father's Day, but I don't share.

2 1/2 ounces vodka, frozen (Tito's is my favorite)
1 ounce sake, chilled
1 pickled ginger sprout for garnish
1 cup crushed ice

Fill up cocktail shaker with ice until 2/3 full. Add vodka and sake and shake until ice cold. Take chilled martini glass. Strain and pour prepared saketini into glass and garnish with a pickled ginger sprout.

Make Your Own "Fresh Pineapple Sake"
1/2 ripe pineapple
2 cups water
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 vanilla bean, seeds scraped out
1 cinnamon stick
1 bottle (24 ounces) premium (daiginjo or ginjo) sake
1 teaspoon lemon juice

Cut the rind off the pineapple, then cut the fruit crosswise into 4 pieces. In a large saucepan, heat the water, sugar, vanilla bean and seeds, and cinnamon stick over medium heat. When the mixture comes to a boil, add the pineapple and simmer for about 3 minutes. Remove the pineapple from the saucepan and let cool. Puree the pineapple in a food processor. Strain the puree and the contents of the saucepan through a fine-mesh sieve. Return the strained pineapple mixture to the saucepan over medium heat and boil until reduced by about two-thirds, 15 to 20 minutes. Cool. In a medium bowl, combine the cooled pineapple mixture and the sake. Add the lemon juice. Pour into a glass container and refrigerate. Serve well chilled. Makes 16 servings.

Sake Steamed Manila Clams
4 teaspoons sake
4 teaspoons mirin (Japanese sweet wine)
2 teaspoons rice vinegar
1 1/4 pounds Manila clams in shell, scrubbed
3 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1/4 cup yellow onion, minced
pinch of Togarashi spice blend, or to taste (Togarashi is a Japanese blend of cayenne, sesame seeds and seaweed. It is available at Asian markets)
1 green onion, chopped, for garnish

Heat a wok or large saucepan over high heat. Quickly pour in the sake, mirin and rice vinegar. Add the clams; cover and cook until the clams open, 3 to 4 minutes. Discard any clams that do not open. Remove any scum that forms on the surface using a spoon or paper towel. Stir in the butter, soy sauce, minced onion, and togarashi spice blend, tossing to coat the clams as the butter melts. Arrange clams on a serving plate and drizzle the sauce over them. Sprinkle with chopped green onions. Serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.

Steamed Opakapaka in Parchment Paper
Opakapaka is a wonderful deep-water snapper found in the waters around Hawaii. This recipe steams the fish fillets in sake, soy sauce and herbs. If you can't find opakapaka, use red snapper or sea bass.

1/2 cup sake
1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon grated peeled ginger
1 teaspoon sugar
6 (6-ounces) pieces skinless opakapaka fillet (about 1 inch thick), any bones removed
pinch of Togarashi spice blend, or to taste (Togarashi is a Japanese blend of cayenne, sesame seeds and seaweed. It is available at Asian markets)
1/2 cup sliced scallions

Equipment: 6 (12-to 15-inch) squares of parchment paper or foil; kitchen string

Preheat oven to 400°F with a baking sheet on bottom rack. Stir together sake, soy sauce, ginger, and sugar in a bowl. If fish fillets are more than 4 inches long, fold ends under. Put a fish fillet in center of each parchment square and season with 1/4 teaspoon salt (total). Working with 1 portion at a time, sprinkle fish with Togarashi spice blend and some of scallions and spoon some of sake mixture over top (hold up 2 corners of parchment to prevent liquid from running off). Gather sides of parchment up over fish to form a pouch, leaving no openings, and tie tightly with string. Bake on hot baking sheet until fish is just cooked through, 10 to 12 minutes. Serve with white rice. Makes 6 servings.

Octopus Rice (Tako-Meshi)
Tako-Meshi is a simple octopus rice dish that is popular in the regions bordering the Inland Sea in Japan.

2 octopus legs (boiled and chopped into small pieces)
2 tablespoons ginger, minced
1 1/2 cups short grain rice, rinsed
3, 4 inch pieces of dried kombu, (kombu is dried kelp, found in the Asian section of your grocery store. Soak it in water for 15 minutes before adding to rice)
3-4 tablespoons sake
2-3 tablespoons mirin (cooking wine)
2-3 tablespoons shoyu (soy sauce)
salt (to taste)
3 cups water
fresh shiso leaf for garish (if you can't find shiso, use chopped green onions)

Cut the cooked octopus into small bite sized pieces. Combine all the ingredients and simmer in a tightly covered pot for 18 minutes, or until there is no liquid left in the pot (it helps to add a weight to the top of the lid to avoid loss of steam, or use a rice cooker). After the rice is done, let sit for 10 minutes, then uncover, remove and discard kombu, and stir gently with a rice paddle or spoon. Serve in small bowls garnished with freshly chopped shiso leaves. Makes 4 servings.

Grilled Sake Marinated Chicken Thighs
8 large chicken thighs
1/4 cup sake
2 tablespoon oil
2 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
2 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoon soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon of Togarashi spice blend, or to taste (Togarashi is a Japanese blend of cayenne, sesame seeds and seaweed. It is available at Asian markets)

Place chicken in a glass dish. Combine sake, oil, sesame oil, ginger, garlic, soy sauce, and Togarashi spice blend in a small bowl. Pour mixture over chicken, cover and let marinate on the counter for 1 hour. Preheat grill for medium-high heat. Place chicken on a well oiled grill grate, making sure to reserve marinade. Baste with reserved marinade and cook for 6 minutes. Turn chicken, baste, and allow to cook for another 6 minutes. When juices run clear, remove chicken from grill and serve with rice and snow peas. Makes 4 servings.

Fresh Mango with Sake Cream
1/2 cup sake
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon brown sugar
dash of salt
1 tablespoon heavy cream
3 cups fresh mango slices
3 cups vanilla ice cream
1/3 cup sweetened coconut for garnish

To prepare sake cream, combine sake, butter, brown sugar, and salt in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat; bring to a boil. Cook until reduced to 1/4 cup (about 4 minutes). Remove from heat; stir in cream. Gently stir in mango slices. Serve over ice cream and sprinkle with sweetened coconut. Makes 6 servings.

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