When you think about the various foods that you eat every day,
you would not necessarily put grapes or wine with all of those foods. Rice on the other hand goes with everything. And sake is made from rice. Most people when they think of sake think of Japanese food, but diners are just beginning to realize that sake goes with a range of global cuisines, especially seafood. My name is Nancy Cushman. I am an advanced sake professional and co-owner of restaurants in Boston, New York and Mexico City. My journey with sake began on my first date with Tim, who is my husband and chef in our restaurants. We went out to dinner
and I fell in love with sake and Tim, but especially the sake. The sake brewing process starts with the rice. The brewers polish away the outside husk and as the rice becomes more polished the sake becomes more delicate and refined. And the major categories of sake are defined by the polish rate. Daiginjo – 50%, Ginjo – 60% and Junmai – 70%. Most sakes are filtered, so they come out really nice and clean and clear. Some sakes are not filtered and that’s called Nigori sake. And so that gives it a little cloudy appearance as well as a little bit of sweetness at the end. In the sake fermentation process, the proteins break down and start creating amino acids. The amino acids are really what leads to the umami factor, the savoriness of the sake which makes it such a
great partner with seafood. Sake brings that umami to the table in a way that wine really doesn’t. There are five general styles of sake: Smooth and Refreshing, Aromatic, Rich, Aged, and Sparkling. Most sake fits into one of those categories. Japan is an island,
so it’s surrounded by seafood and then rice is so indigenous to Japan, so sake and seafood are
a match made in nature. I love creating pairings that are outside of the box and really take something that has a lot of complex flavors and trying to figure out what is the best pairing for that. Sake is a great pairing for oysters. The gentle, delicate nature of an oyster really match with floral, fruity, aromatic Ginjo type sake, which might cut into the minerality and the salinity of the oyster. The second dish is salmon with a char siu vinaigrette. Salmon is rich and fatty, so I thought it would be really great to have something smooth and refreshing that would be a crisp, clean match to that, like a Daiginjo, which is a great partner to richer types of seafood. Grilled shrimp pizza. This is a challenge. We have cheese, we have tomato, but grilled
shrimp is a highlight here. All of those things have a lot of umami to them. That calls for a richer type of sake like a Junmai. The body and the umami of the Junmai can elevate all of those ingredients. Iron can compete with
seafood in a negative way. So the lack of iron in sake mellows those fishy flavors out. Sake has about a fifth of the amount of acid in general that wine has, which makes it much more friendly in pairing with seafood. With a higher umami factor than wine, sake really pairs incredibly well with all varieties of seafood. I don’t think sake had its moment yet. I think it deserves that moment in the sun. I feel so fortunate to help others explore sake and I really look forward to continuing the journey.