Year of the Boar (Pig) - Ten Pork and Sake Pairings for the Chinese New Year
On February 18th we all become pigs! Well sort of, in fact, it is the Chinese New Year's Day celebration, and as this is the year of the boar then we are all part of swine time! Firstly, let's talk about what it means to be a "pig."
1923, 1935, 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007
If you were born on these years then more than likely you are:
Positive: The Boar can be sensible, sensual and sensitive, sweetly naive, caring, self-sacrificing, erudite, talented, open-handed, candid, outgoing, amusing, charitable, obliging, graciously hospitable and virtuous.
Negative: The Boar can also be hot-tempered, pessimistic, outrageously epicurean, earthy to a fault, sardonic, snobbish, snide, authoritarian, competitive, know-it-all, stingy, victimized and sometimes downright criminally mad at the world.
On New Year's Day itself there are some really cool taboos and customs that you should all be made aware of, and since we at True Sake always care about your well-being then please take note.
Do: Sweep your house the day before, and remove the rubbish through the back door, shoot off firecrackers to send out the old year, at midnight on the Eve open all of the windows and doors in your house to let out the old year, use an almanac for the best time to leave your house, wear red colored clothes, do give a little red envelope filled with money to children and elder friends, and pay close attention to the first person you meet in the New Year and the words that they say - it will dictate your fortunes for the coming year.
Don't: Sweep your house on New Year's day as you will sweep away good fortune, lend money to friends, use foul language or unlucky words, say the "four" (Ssu) which sounds like "death," tell ghost stories, refer to the past year, cry on New Year's Day or you will cry all year long, wash your hair because you will wash away good fortune, greet anybody in their bedroom, and don't use knives or scissors as this may cut off good fortunes.
Now back to sake! Herewith is the first-ever Chinese New Year's Top 10 Pork and Sake Pairings. I will pair sakes to ten pork dishes that are available to all. (I promise that I will not do this for the Year of The Rat)
- PORK TENDERLOIN - YUKI NO BOSHA JUNMAI GINJOHow often have you tasted pork tenderloin that is so over cooked that it better represents one of those fake fire logs that burns for "3 hours?" I have selected this Junmai Ginjo because it has explosive fruit and high acidity to cut through the dryness and the fruitiness acts as a liquid chutney.
- PORK ADOBO (PHILIPINO) - MASUMI YAMAHAI JUNMAI GINJOTake some very tender pork, marinate it in soy sauce, vinegar and garlic and let it set for the night. This slow cooked dish works wonders with a full-bodied Yamahai Ginjo that has some fruit but drinks more rich and smoky when mixing with the soy sauce.
- KAKUNI (JAPANESE) - HAIKASSAN HONJOZOMike Black from Sebo makes two versions of this pork belly dish - one from Okinawa and the other a more traditional recipe - and we both agree that this Honjozo from Niigata plays so very well with the more traditional dish. Why? Because the juice is what makes the flavor rock, and the dryness of the Honjozo pulls all of the oily flavor forward in the mouth.
- SWEET AND SOUR PORK (CHINESE) - OTOKOYAMA FUKKOSHU (GENSHU)Who hasn't had this syrupy pork offering with tremendous pink colors and a splendid stickiness? It takes a certain type of sake to go with something so sweet and yet has an undercurrent of vinegar. That brew is an amazingly sweet Junmai Genshu from Hokkaido that is extremely well balanced for a sake that has an SMV of -50. This rich sweetness and very robust acidity of 3.4 works like magic with this cheap and comfy form of pork!
- PORK CUTLET - WAKATAKE ONIKOROSHI JUNMAI GENSHUYe ol' pork cutlet recipe that mom used to make or the version that you got at Denny's at 3AM always needs a brew that plays to the oily and salty goodness. In Japan they call it Tonkatsu and typically one would pair this affordable dish with a Junmai that speaks to the fried flavor. I prefer a dry Junmai that is viscous and chewy, and has a full-bodied construction that dances with the oily nature of the dish. Wakatake is that animal!
- PORK RIBS (BAR-B-QUE) - KAMOIZUMI SHUSEN JUNMAI GINJOI had to go straight to the Pig's mouth for this pairing. I asked our dear friend Bob Kantor of Memphis Minnie's - the dude who offers sakes with his tasty bar-b-que - what sake has the balls to stand up to the huge flavor of bar-b-que. For years he has sworn that "Shusen" has that fortitude, and I must agree as this extremely deep Ginjo has so much body that it really pulls out the smokiness of the pork.
- ROASTED PORK LOIN - MASUMI ARABASHIRI JUNMAI GINJOThis "Pork Loin" should not be confused with tenderloin as described in the first pork pairing. This fantastic pork dish was made by Alain Rondelli - uber chef extraordinaire - for my book. The recipe celebrates the union of Sake with western haute cuisine and is a shining example of how sake should be considered mainstream and center of the plate material. The fruitiness and freshness of the brew really captures the elegance of the pork and the basket of flavors in the cranberry ginger chutney. See page number 93 and let the games begin.
- PORK SAUSAGE - KARIHO NAMAHAGE YAMAHAI JUNMAIAhhh pork sausage! There are a million recipes for this delicacy from resting in a bun at a stadium to thinly sliced whilst accompanying a plate of eggs for breakfast. The bottom line or common denominator is that most are a little bit spicy. That is why I like tossing this radically dry Junmai that has an SMV of +15 and a firm acidity of 1.7 into the arena of pork sausage recipes. There is a layer of fruit tones but the dryness will jump at the spiciness.
- CARNITAS (MEXICO) - HIRAIZUMI YAMAHAI JUNMAIThis slow-cooked pork dish is a favorite of those looking for deep and rich tones that explode in a juiciness that can only come from Mexico. Basically think smooth and confident in your choice of sakes, and there is no better "culprit" than Hiraizumi Yamahai Junmai. This traditionally brewed sake has an elevated acidity level that dances with the meaty juices of the Carnitas, and the elegant dryness captures the richness of this porky beast.
- PORK BACON - TAMANOHIKARI YAMAHAI JUNMAI GINJOLast but not least we get to good ol' bacon! Such a simple dish but oh so comforting. The smoky, rich and salty qualities call for a sake that highlights these elements but also adds a touch of class. This Yamahai Ginjo is all of that with hints of nuttiness and a smoky presence that wraps the bacon like a pig in a blanket.