Bottle Rockets & Bar-B-Q - July Is For The Grill!
Yes the season has come to fire up the ol'grill with coals, gas, or old style with real old-fashioned wood (wood comes from trees!). Point being the summer is for grilling and sake is the best for grillin'and chillin.' I will look to the past -- as in last year's Newsletter -- to drop some pointers your way, but fear not when the coals are hot and the sake is cool anything is possible. God Bless America (and Japan)!
Many of you know about Bob Kantor's place called Memphis Minis on Haight Street in SF, where sake comes face to face with the biggest badass rack of ribs in town. Bob swears that sake and Bar-B-Q dance the forbidden dance and I most certainly agree. But the trick is matching the sake to the type of charred substance. Meaning it takes a certain kind of sake to pair well with your holiday-grilled excellence. Here are some basic tips to help you look like a rock-star when you show up to a BYOB(S) Bar-B-Q party:
- If you are grilling meats with lots of sauce stay with a sake that has lots of fortitude. Think about acidity levels and try to pair the meats to sakes that have higher acidity identities. For example think about matching your Bar-B-Q'd meats with Nama "unpasteurized" sakes that are Genshu "undiluted." Or look for Yamahai or Kimoto (old-style sakes ). If all else fails I always like to use very dry Junmai sakes with tons of grain and smoky characteristics. Deep rich sakes with more earth tones such as soil, leaves, mushroom, and wood elements tend to dance better than a fruity sake. Fruity sakes get smothered with big sauce items!
- If you are grilling fish or light fowl on the coals then I say look for bigger Ginjo sakes that have pronounced layers and are balanced well. I prefer sakes with more mouth feel or gooeyness if you will. Plump sakes with higher amino acidity that really fill the recesses of your mouth with flavor. I think fruit-forward sakes work great with grilled fish and chicken that have a hint of salt.
- If you like your veggies tossed to hell's fires then I say get goofy and try a Nigori (unfiltered) sake. These sakes tend to be very fruit forward and straight-talkers and as such they bring out the sweetness in veggies on the grill. I prefer Nigoris with a hint of coconut to make the veggies feel more like a Thai grilled concoction.
- If the weenie is in the works I say pair that Hot Dog with a creamy Junmai that is silky as all-get-out. A silky Junmai along the lines of a Nishinoseki that has an almost buttery-popcorn tonality that pulls well with a bun or bread.
- Lastly, the final East meets West pairing is the combination of hamburgers and sake. Truly one of haute cuisine's final frontiers. The best part about a burger is a "juicy burger" and it is those juices that go so well with sake. Think oils in your mouth, and then think about fatter and more viscous sakes that coat your palate. The more sake that sticks to the inside of your mouth, the more juicy flavors will last up front. And of course the big three - ketchup, mustard and mayo - will be along for the ride, and it takes a full- bodied and deep sake to capture all of these essences. My current favorite flavor match in this regard is Kasumi Tsuru's Nama Genshu Honjozo that just flat out rocks with mustard. Perhaps it is the vinegar with the Nama-ness or it's the twang with the Genshu-ness, whatever it is it is good.
Do NOT be afraid to mix it up during this summer's cooking season. Sake has a long history of pairing well with foods that are grilled. And do not forget to use a bit of your sipping sake as a little at- the-grill-marinade for both you and your food. When things heat up cool down with chilled sake, it's the American way!