Pairing with Sake
This is part two of a topic that could go on forever, but I want to do at least three parts.
Part one is here (Pairing with Food).
Where do I start?
Food and drink pairing can be described as a science or an art.
I came to understand food and beverage pairing from a logic-and-rules approach, like science. Once I had planned events and offered suggestions to customers for several years, I started to develop a feel for it, like art. I cannot say which might work best for you, but SAKE SECRET will always be here to help if you get lost.
Are there rules to pairing Sake?
If it works, it works, so I won't go as far as calling them rules, but here are some guidelines I find helpful:
Choose your Sake Unless you already feel comfortable with your knowledge of Sake and how certain selections will taste, the best way to start is by choosing one Sake, tasting it, and then creating a pairing based on what you know about the Sake's flavor.
Compliment or Contrast Pairing is all about balance. If your Sake has a particularly strong flavor, you want to identify which of the five tastes (SWEET, BITTER, SALTY, SOUR, UMAMI) that is, and whether that is something you want to highlight or counteract with the food. For example, if you have a bright, tart Sake you can highlight that by pairing it with something sweet. The sweetness will take the edge off of the acidity and alcohol, and the Sake's flavor will complement the dish, like adding a fruit topping to a dessert. If you want to contrast the same Sake, you can choose something oily or savory, like grilled meat or fish.
Fill-in-the-Blank If you have a great, complex meal that already engages your palate fully, you can try to select a Sake that introduces that fifth and final taste or a more neutral Sake that can be used as a palate-cleanser to reset your mouth for the next bite.
What to Avoid Because Sake has such a diverse range of possible flavors, aromas, and body - not to mention textures and serving temperatures! - there are no hard-fast rules for pairing a certain style. That said, here are some helpful pointers:
Daiginjo/Ginjo - These styles usually have a lighter body and more fruity or floral features that lend to lighter dishes. Unless they are especially dry, higher in alcohol, have a lot of body or tartness, enjoy these with fruit, salads, tradional Japanese food, or before or after a meal with some cheese or chocolate.
Junmai - Junmai styles typically maintian more of the original characteristics of the rice they are made from. This may include more Umami or simply a cereal/grain flavor that pairs well with white meat, cheese, or fruit. Think of what you might eat with toast or put on a cracker, and that should start to give you some fun and novel ideas.
Kimoto/Yamahai - Traditional brewing styles like these tend to have much more body. This means they can often pair well with bolder, complex, and heavier dishes, like red meat or heavy sauces, as well as briney flavors like raw oysters and Uni (Sea urchin, pronounced "Ooo knee"). Some can have quite earthy, nutty flavors. Think about what food goes well with mushrooms, and try pairing it with that.
Nigori - These cloudy Sake have a soothing mouthfeel and sweetness from unfermented, complex sugars. Like Horchata or Lassi, this makes Nigori a great combo with spicy dishes. The sweetness can also be a nice compliment with more bitter dessert flavors, such as dark chocolate, cocoa powder or matcha.
Those are just a few of the styles out there, but remember: You're the expert on what you like! Taste your Sake first, trust your instincts, and have fun!