This past weekend, the Hungry Native team was happy to attend the fifth annual Martha’s Vineyard Food and Wine Festival. The first event we took part in was titled “Sake 101 and Unexpected Food Pairings”. This seminar was put on by the folks at o ya restaurant in Boston, and took place at the Boathouse Club in Edgartown, MA. The seminar was presented by Nancy Cushman, sommelier at o ya, with food supplied by her husband and chef/owner of o ya, Tim Cushman, along with his talented team.
The seminar kicked off with a brief history of Sake making in Japan, the ingredients and processes involved and an explanation of the different types and grades of sake. Mrs. Cushman was very personable and knowledgeable; expertly guiding us through the nuances of this oft ignored (in America, at least) beverage and providing all the participants with a basic working knowledge of the drink before diving into the tasting.
Round one was Hamachi (sometimes called Japanese Amberjack or Yellowtail) Sashimi with yuzu, truffle oil and shiso, paired with a Junmai Daiginjo from Hokkaido. The sake had a slightly sweet, light and crisp aroma that wouldn’t be out of place in a white wine, with a very clean and smooth taste that exhibited just a hint of alcohol. The Hamachi had a smooth, buttery, almost smoky flavor that paired quite well with the slightly oily mouth-feel of the sake. The citrus acidity of the yuzu cut through the rich flavors of the fish and truffle oil just right, and the small roasted tomato topped with a bit of chopped shiso added an extra level of flavor to this wonderful combination.
The tasting started with the lighter, cleaner sakes, working its way to the darker or more full flavored offerings. Interestingly, this progression also followed a roughly North to South path through Japan, with the North being known for its more subtle flavors that are best enjoyed cold and South offering more robust examples that might be served room temperature or slightly warmed.
The second pairing was Junmai Ginjo from Ibaraki, matched with an Oyster Shooter that had cucumber and ponzu marinated watermelon pearls. This sake smelled lightly of melon and had a faint watermelon taste that reinforced the watermelon flavor of the shooter. The oyster itself was briny and smooth and was contrasted by the refreshing, palate cleansing, watery flavors of the cucumber, melon and sake. The Third sake was a junmai ginjo from Hiroshima with a very light smoky or peaty flavor, almost like extremely watered-down scotch. It was mated with a deep-fried Pork Carnita and a separate spoon with a tomatillo salsa. The whole thing worked surprisingly well, considering that sake isn’t the first beverage that comes to mind when eating Mexican food. Number four consisted of a Tom Kar Thai soup that was extremely fragrant with lemongrass and galangal. The soup had a fair bit of heat and a creamy coconut milk base with chunks of chicken. The sake served with it was a bit of a departure, a Nigori, or unfiltered sake. It had a white-ish cloudy look and an aroma of pears and perhaps licorice. The sweetness of the Nigori played off of the sweet and spicy soup quite well, and its cooling properties took away a bit of the residual heat from the peppers in the soup. We would’ve never thought of it before, but there is now a bottle of Nigori in our ‘fridge, ready for the next spicy meal we eat at home.
For the fifth selection we were served Roasted Eggplant with tomato sauce and goat cheese, coupled with a Junmai from Tochigi. This sake had a smell reminiscent of dark apples or mushrooms. The taste leaned toward the mushrooms, with an earthy, almost musty flavor that complimented the umami-rich flavors of eggplant and tomato perfectly.
While most sake are supposed to be consumed fresh, for dessert we were treated to a rare, aged Hanahato sake from Hiroshima. This sake was aged for 8 years and had a dark color similar to aged rum. It had a rich, rum-like smell with hints of raisin. The deep caramel flavor was sweet and complex, like brandy, but it really shone when combined with the miso marinated Delice de Bourgogne, a triple-cream cow’s milk cheese. The salty, pungent cheese was decent on its own, but was positively transformed by the sake, becoming almost candy-like similar to dulche de leche while still retaining its creaminess and sharp bite.
This was one of the most fun and informative food and beverage tastings either one of us has had the pleasure of attending. All the food was delicious and beautifully presented, and the sake pairings opened our eyes to how versatile a libation it can be. After the event, we promptly visited the local liquor store and purchased a few different types of sake, eager to come up with some pairings of our own.
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