Sometimes all it takes is to try something new to change your life. Like how an experiment with oatmeal four years ago engendered hundreds of porridge bowls thereafter, I can sense that the sip of sake as a digestif post-lunch this afternoon is going to be life-changing.
It has been a long-harboured dream to make Nobu’s famed three-day miso-marinated black cod. Finally, after years of dilly-dallying, I decided it was time to get down to business. With just four ingredients, the marinade couldn’t be more simple – miso, sake, mirin and sugar. The problem was I was not familiar with the first three Japanese ingredients. Shiro (white), shinshu (yellow) or aka (red) miso? Junmai sake or Honjozo sake? Ginjo or Tokubetsu? All these terms were confusing, and the ornate lettering of the Japanese language crisscrossed on the bedazzling array of miso packets and sake bottles did not help either. But one has to start somewhere, and so I started at the most logical place – Meidi Ya Japanese supermarket.
As pictured in the top photo, I returned with:
Sake: Hakkaisan Tokubetsu Junmai sake
Mirin: Takara organic mirin
Miso: a mix of shiro and aka miso (freshly homemade, from a pop-up stall at Isetan supermarket)
But the point of this post is all about the sake. The Junmai Tokubetsu (meaning special in Japanese) was like no other wine I had before. It was almost like white wine (sauvignon blanc) but far more zesty, clear, sparkly and crisp. As a very inadequate metaphor to describe the sake, imagine twinkling stars on your palate upon drinking the wine. According to the website, the Tokubetsu uses rice milled to 60%, so I can’t imagine how much better can a more premium sake be (e.g. a daiginjo, milled to 30%). Rice is milled or “polished” before being used in brewing to eliminate the fats, proteins, and minerals on the outer portions of the grain that can inhibit fermentation and cause off flavors in the finished product. As a general rule of thumb, the more milled the rice is, the more refined and elegant the sake is supposed to be. I enjoyed the sake so much that I made a sake fruit bowl of chopped apples, strawberries, grapes and papaya with a tablespoon of sake poured over. It worked beautifully, if not better, than balsamic vinegar!
This has brought on a brainstorm of possible ways to use sake: sake sangria, sake sorbet, sake marinades, sake pasta … I’m so excited!