Sake

Traditionally served with Japanese dishes, sake now has a world of possibilities in the kitchen. Serve straight, shake into "saketini" cocktails or add to recipes calling for wine.

See also mirin.

 

This traditional Japanese alcoholic drink is made from specially selected rice that's fermented, filtered, heated and matured in casks. Although it's often called "Japanese rice wine," sake is considered by some to be more like an uncarbonated beer since it's brewed from a grain base.

Sake is colorless and slightly hazy, with an alcohol content ranging between 12% and 17%. It can be enjoyed chilled or warmed as a beverage, and is often used to flavor sauces and marinades. Like wine, its flavor complexities can range from sweet to dry and delicate to robust. It's a wonderful accompaniment to fresh fish and other light dishes.

Varieties

There are about 65 different rice varieties designated for sake production. Like grapes, different rice strains grow in different regions, and some are more prized than others. With about 1600 sake breweries (kura) in Japan, there are as many as 10,000 different sakes being produced today. Generally speaking, there are five basic types, each with its own brewing process and flavor profile.

Junmai-shu
This pure rice wine has no sugars, starches or brewer's alcohol added. It often has a full, rich body and high levels of acidity.

Honjozo-shu
This sake has a small amount of distilled pure alcohol added to smooth and lighten the flavor and make it more fragrant.

Ginjo-shu
Made from highly milled rice, this sake is light and delicate, but much more intricate and complex than junmai and honjozo.

Daiginjo-shu
Milled even further, this sake is available in a range of styles that have been created with extra care to preserve the craft. A typical daiginjo is very fragrant and full-bodied.

Namazake
This classification is reserved for sake that has not been pasteurized. Any of the four types listed above can be namazake, or not. It has a fresh, lively flavor and must be refrigerated to preserve its flavor and clarity.

Buying Tips

Keep in mind the quality of sake you use in cooking does make a difference. For delicate foods like fresh seafood, look for a ginjo sake. For oilier or fried foods like tempura, buy a more acidic junmai. In the U.S., good imported sake ranges in price from $18 to $35 for a 750ml bottle. While sake from Japan is generally of premier craftsmanship and flavor, sake brewed in the U.S. can be an attractive value at about half the price.

Storage Tips

Store sake away from light and heat. Refrigeration is best, but not necessary unless you purchase a namazake that has not been pasteurized. Once opened, sake will keep for about three weeks, but it should be used as soon as possible.

Usage Tips

When using sake in cooked dishes, only use one that you would enjoy drinking. If you don't like how it tastes on its own, chances are you won't like it in your dish either. 

Related Recipes

View BigOven's sake recipes

by BigOven editorial team
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