Sunday, December 20, 2015

Sake and Wa-Shoku: The Art of Japanese Cuisine at Napa Valley Wine Academy

Back in November I was invited to a Sake tasting and introduction to WA-SHOKU, the art of Japanese cuisine at the Napa Valley Wine Academy. The event was sponsored by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) and in conjunction with Sake School of America and Morimoto Napa. The Sake pairing seminar was part of the core instruction curriculum for students and taking the WSET Level 3 Award in Sake certification intensive.

Instructor Toshio Uneo, Master Sake Sommelier and Executive Instructor at Sake School of America guided us thought the fine points of food preparation and the basic flavor profiles: salty, spicy, sweet, sour/bitter and umami--the savory element that adds depth to a dish.

As this was a pairing demonstration we did not go too deeply into the production of different Sakes as in the regular course of instruction. But the quick explanation on sake is that the more the rice is polished the higher the grade of the sake. Higher polished rice lends a lighter more fragrant less complex flavor profile, while lower polished sake gives a richer more umami flavor.

The art of WA-SHOKU is in tune to the bounty of nature and focuses on using distinct seasonal ingredients to reflect the four seasons.

Sushi Chef Ichiro Tsuji, from Morimoto Napa, was every entertaining and explained the importance of knives and technique in the preparation of sushi. Then we were presented with the most gorgeous bento box I’ve ever encountered.

Each section of the box was a different flavor adventure that Chef Ichiro created to pair with the sakes. It was like a treasure chest of little jewels. Below are some of my favorites from the box.

Daikon with ebkuro (fish stomach) was reminiscent of tripe but with a umami twist. Paired well with the Hakkaisan Honjozo.

This tomago custard had a unique flavor and very distinctive spicy sansho pepper on top. I found it also paired well with the Hakkaisan Honjozo.

The Fried Chicken with paper thin scallion and dried chili pepper was amazing and flavorful. The Colonel would surely love to know Ichiro’s secret recipe for this.

I thought the Kikumasamune Kimoto Junmai was the most full flavored and balanced of the sakes to my palate and it paired great with everything. The Hakkaisan Honjozo was more aromatic and its subtle mango and tropical fruit flavors were also well suited to all the dishes.

Sakes presented:
Born Gold Junmai Daiginjo
Brewery: Katoukichibee Shouten
Perfecture: Fukui
Rice Variety: Yamadanishiki
Polish Ratio: 45%

Hakkaisan Honjozo
Brewery: Hakkai Jyozo
Perfecture: Niigata
Rice Variety: Gohyakumangoku & Todorokiwase
Polish Ratio: 55%

Kikumasamune Kimoto Junmai
Brewery: Kikumasamune Shuzo
Perfecture: Hyogo
Rice Variety: Yamadanishiki
Polish Ratio: 73%

Tengumai Yamahai Jikommi
Brewery: Shata Shuzo
Perfecture: N/A
Rice Variety: Gohyakumangoku
Polish Ratio: 60%

If you’d like to learn more about the world of Sake, a course through the Napa Valley Wine Academy would be a great place to start. There you can pursue a WSET Level 3 Award in Sake for professional development or to simply deepen your experience for your own enjoyment.

Useful links:
Taste of Japan 
Napa Valley Wine Academy 

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