Saké and Steak Night at the Culinary Cabin (#WinePW)


Happy New Year!


I’m sure we’re all glad to see 2020 in the rearview mirror. (Although 2021 seems to be off to a more eventful start than ideal.) Despite all the tribulations, we did have some very good moments over the course of the year. A good number of them occurred in Lake Tahoe at the Culinary Cabin


I’m sure many of us found different ways to navigate the new world. One of the things that made our year much better than it might have been, were the occasional stretches we spent at the Culinary Cabin with our little pod thanks to our hosts Lucy and Drew. This post, therefore, is a bit of a tribute to them. 


In recent years, Drew has developed a deep love for saké. He also has a deep love for dry-aged steak, and he REALLY loves pairing the two together. One evening during one of our quaranteam trips to Tahoe, he decided to do just that in a rather decadent dinner sharing two particularly good bottles. I admit that I raised skeptical eyebrow at the combo, but hey, I wasn’t about to turn down a good steak and good saké. 

 


Drew prepared the dry-aged ribeye sous vide, then seared it off at the end. Greg served as his sous chef and also prepared his “Potatoes Gregoire,” as we like to call them. I had it easy that night, and just roasted some vegetables as a side. Given the particularly lovely mea, the majority of the group decided to dress up for the event. (Or at least, we dressed up by 2020 shelter-in-place standards.) 

 

Junmai Daiginjo

Both of the bottles were of Junmai daiginjo saké, which is the highest grade of the Japanese rice wine. To qualify for title, Junmai daiginjo saké must be made with grains of rice that have been polished to half their original weight. To help kick off the fermentation process, steamed rice is mixed with kōji-kin (spores of the fungus Aspergillus oryzae, which is also used to make other products like soy sauce and miso). The spores germinate and release enzymes that convert the starches in the rich into glucose. Yeast then turns this glucose into alcohol during fermentation.


Making Junmai daiginjo is a very labor-intensive, not to mention that half the base material is polished away in process, so it’s altogether quite costly to make. There are also strict quality controls involved. Given all of the blood, sweat, and tears that go into it, it’s usually only made in very small quantities and is typically a saké producer’s top tier offering. The style is known for being fragrant and quite delicate, and would typically be paired with similarly delicate foods like sashimi.




Nishide Shuzo Junami Daiginjo 100 Year Saké

Price: Found on various sites for prices ranging between $125 - $200.


Nishide Shuzo, located in the Kaga region, operates with the mantra that “saké brewing is our life.”  They’ve been making handmade sakes with only three employees for five generations. They make this special junmai daiginjo using a unique yeast that was discovered one hundred years ago, giving it the name “100 Year Saké”. This yeast, called kuratsuki kobo (house yeast), only grows within the brewery itself. (saké producers that have been making saké for generations often take pride in their specific yeast.)


The 17th century artwork on the Kutani Yaki porcelain bottle (which is typical of the region) is meant to tell the story that the saké is made using local ingredients. In essence, this is a saké meant to showcase its terroir.


It’s recommended to serve this saké chilled. Pairing recommendations include sushi and dashi rich dishes.


Tasting Notes: Flowers, green melon, peach, cream, and salted lemons. Delicate with a hint of acidity on the finish. 


Shimizu-No-Mai Junmai Daiginjo Saké Pure Night

Price: $109.99


The Takashimizu brewery was established in 1944 when several small family breweries dating back to 1656 in Akita, Japan came together to form one brewery. They took the name “Takashimizu,” in honor of the hill on which the Akita’s castle had once stood. Shimizu-no-mai is their brand line in the U.S. and they have several different Pure Sakés, with the Pure Night being the top tier. 


Akita is a mountainous region with cold winters, and the water they use for their saké sourced from the point where three rivers carrying this cold mountain water meet and is very pure. They use an artisanal rice, and 65% of the rice is polished away for this bottling, rather that the required 50% described above, with the intent of creating a particularly delicate flavor profile. 


It’s recommended to serve this saké alone or with very delicate foods, as most foods would overpower this saké, masking the feather-light aromatics and flavors. Recommended pairings include sashimi or oysters with caviar.


Tasting Notes: A layer of minerality unfolds with sweet flowers like honeysuckle, green melon, citrus, lychee, and touches of light green herbs.

 

 

 

 

As I mentioned at the top, I was a little skeptical at the steak pairing. For one thing, I typically prefer sakes like these with more delicate fare, inline with those recommended by both of these breweries. I was imagining scallop crudo or sashimi while I sipped these, and those oysters sound heavenly.


For another thing, I just really love a big red wine with steak. I know I so often go on and on about how light to medium bodied red wines tend to be the easiest reds to pair, and that’s true, but steak is one of the places I definitely like to bust out the big and the bold! I think I felt like I was missing the opportunity to open one here. 


Ultimately, despite his enthusiasm, I don’t think Drew completely convinced me to put aside the the big reds with future steaks. However, these were both gorgeous sakés (big thanks to Drew for sharing them!) and I will say that they did work much better than I'd expected, particularly the Pure Night. Our friend Selin (one of the other members of our little pod) noted that it resonated with the pepper on the steak and highlighted the flavor, and I agreed with her there. I also thought both sakés worked nicely with the roasted vegetables, in particular the zucchini. So if you're looking for something a little different to go with a steak, particularly if you're accompanying it with veggie sides, saké could be a really fun alternative pairing.

 


 

If all of this weren’t already decadent enough, Lucy made this show-stopper of a cake to finish the meal. I guarantee, it was absolutely as good as it looks, if not better. I’m craving another slice all over again as I look at this picture!


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For more saké pairing inspo check out Saké Pairing Party.

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The rest of the Wine Pairing Weekend (#WinePW) blogging group is exploring Saké and Other Pairings for Asian Food as led by Camilla of Culinary Adventures with Camilla. If you see this early enough, feel free to join our chat on Twitter at 8 a.m. on Janurary, 9, 2021 by following #WinePW. 
 
Be sure to check out the rest of the group's posts:  


  

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8 comments

  1. What a magical getaway! Those steaks have me salivating.

    I must admit to being inspired now to try some sake pairings and explore this beverage!

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    1. Thanks so much Robin. They were very fun to explore!

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  2. I truly had no idea how labor intensive sake was and that the rice had to be polished...this is so fascinating! The sake's I've encountered in the past have tasted a little like rubbing alcohol but I am so curious to give them another try!

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    1. Yes, I've had those too. There are a lot of crappy inexpensive sakés out there, but I would definitely give it another shot. There are also lots of really pretty quality versions at inexpensive price points as well.

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  3. holy cow! That is some serious saké. It's funny. People seem to either love or dislike saké. It's a polarizing taste, I think

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    1. It's so funny -- it's such a mild flavor in my mind that I'd never seen it that way until I read your and Andrea's posts this month. So interesting.

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  4. Like you dry-aged steak and Sake not a top of mine pairing, but both of those Sake sound amazing! I glad at least "peaceful co-existence" was found. Tell me, in Evan Goldstein's Perfect Pairing book, he advocates for there being one "star of the show" when it comes to food and wine pairing. I thought about that bit of advice as I read your post.

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    1. Interesting, I do kind of think of it that way at home and do tend to pick one to be the star on a given night. In this case, as you can probably infer, I think I was partly skeptical because we were pairing such high-end sakes with the steak that I figured was bound to overpower them. However, you are correct that "peaceful co-existence" was reached and it was a fun exercise and both of the sakes were fantastic.

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Thanks so much for leaving your comments and questions. I always love to hear from you!