Sake has long been enjoyed alongside food, with people all around the world happily ordering it as a pairing when visiting Japanese restaurants. However, sake isn't just limited to being paired with Japanese food.
Its diversity in flavour profile, texture, and temperature has made sake an increasingly attractive option as a pairing among diners. This article lays out the essentials for pairing sake with food along with a few ideas for non-Japanese food pairings.
How to Pair Food with sake
A general rule of thumb is to marry rich flavours with rich sake, such as junmai sake, and delicate flavours with delicate sake, like ginjo or daiginjo.
Junmai sake are made using rice that has been milled down to 70% of its original size, retaining an umami bite that goes excellently with rich and hearty dishes that would overpower more fragrant sake.
When sake is made from rice milled down to 60%, it is known as ginjo and doing so leads to more fragrant notes that generally fare better when served chilled and paired with simple, pure or citrus flavours. With these sake, avoid heavy sauces to really allow the sake to shine.
With daiginjo sake, namely crisp sake produced using rice milled down to at least 50%, try pairing it as an aperitif with slightly salty foods like olives or caviar, contrasting brilliantly with their salt and oil qualities, or with fruit salads to contrast with the simple sweetness. These sake should really be the main event rather than the dishes themselves.Like with wine, there are certain factors to bear in mind when pairing food with sake and, as with wine again, there's no shortage of debate over what goes best with what. In essence, you want to aim for the sake and the food not only to match each other, but to also support the culinary experience as a whole.
Determining Factors When Pairing sake with Food
A number of factors in addition to the interaction between the food and the sake in taste can affect the success of a sake food pairing. Like with wine pairings, factors like acidity and texture are important variables to consider, while unlike wine, umami and serving temperature play far bigger roles.
While there are many variables, the following are particularly notable in terms of their effect on food:
Acids break down fats and help in the food being broken down in the mouth, leading to taste explosions when high acid sake are paired with high-fat foods. Think junmai sake with oily, fatty foods.
If a sake is too acidic, it can overwhelm simple foods that don't have the fat content to stand up to it, so generally think of high acid bold sake when pairing with fats and oils.
Heating sake enhances the noticeability of acids and alcohols and can overwhelm delicate flavours Try heated junmai with big, bold flavours to match or chilled ginjo sake with simple foods like salads.
Sake's range in temperature makes it a great pairing for foods associated with the seasons; warm sake goes well with comforting winter stews and chilled sake with summer cold meat platters.A particularly enjoyable part of drinking sake is exploring how it varies with temperature. Warmer sake generally brings out richer, sweeter, and more alcoholic umami tastes while cooler ones allow for more fragrant, drier notes to be detected.
In short, umami is the rich, full-bodied savoury taste that can be found in Parmigiano Reggiano or Worcestershire Sauce, and it is everywhere in Japanese cuisine, with sake being no exception.
To experience the potentials of sake as a food pairing, pair umami-laden foods with sake that have an umami quality to match.
A sake's texture, which deals with mouthfeel and structure, iSAKEy consideration when pairing with food. In general, match full-bodied sake with full-bodied foods to enhance the overall gastronomic experience. This also goes for creamy, chilled nigorizake with dairy and sparkling sake with fried food