Fish Tale: Sake Takes Flight

When it comes to sourcing fish, Executive Chef David Werly checks for quality and safety, with sustainability as a key factor. “I really try to understand the story behind each fish that I buy. I want to know where they come from, how they are caught, if they are wild, and how they are raised if they are farmed. For example, we have a Scottish salmon that is raised in front of a lock with the advantage of fresh water and nothing artificial in their environment. It is really a wild fish.”

When it comes to sourcing fish, Executive Chef David Werly checks for quality and safety, with sustainability as a key factor. “I really try to understand the story behind each fish that I buy. I want to know where they come from, how they are caught, if they are wild, and how they are raised if they are farmed. For example, we have a Scottish salmon that is raised in front of a lock with the advantage of fresh water and nothing artificial in their environment. It is really a wild fish.”

To complement their menu offerings of sushi and sashimi as well as Asian-inspired specialties, Mozen is now serving a full range of sakes by the glass and by the bottle. To whet your appetite, Mandarin Oriental Wine Director Will Costello created sake flights to both educate and delight the diner. Each platter of four 1-ounce tastings comes with an informational sheet that explains flavor profiles and origins of each sake as well as food pairing suggestions.

Although commonly referred to as rice wine because it is made from polished rice kernels, sake is actually produced by a brewing process that is more closely aligned to beer. Unlike the fermentation process that wine undergoes, where alcohol is produced by natural sugars, for sake, starch must first be converted to sugar and then that sugar into alcohol. But unlike beer, where that process happens in two separate steps, when sake is brewed these steps occur simultaneously.

Sake grades depend on the degree to which the rice has been “milled,” or polished. This eliminates the fats, proteins, and minerals that can be found on the outer layers of the grain that inhibit fermentation and dilute the finished flavor profile. The more polished the rice, the more complex, delicate, and aromatic the sake becomes. For a less refined, bigger, and heartier taste, less-polished rice is chosen by the brewer.

SAKE SERVICE GLOSSARY
One go: Volume unit in which sake is traditionally sold. It’s Japanese for “one cup.”
One sho: Volume unit of a flask of sake. It’s 1.8 liters.
Seimaibuai: Percentage of the original rice grain that remains after polishing.
O-choko: Small cylindrical cup sake from which it is usually poured for drinking.
Tokkuri: Clay vessels in which sake is typically served.
Masu: Wooden box originally used for measuring rice that can also be used as a sake container from which to drink . Filled to the very brim, it holds exactly 180 milliliters.
Sakazuki: Saucer-like cup used most commonly at ceremonial occasions or weddings.

JUNMAI DAIGINJO
Only about 3 percent of all sake made is turned into Junmai Daiginjo, which is the highest grade. There
is no alcohol added, making it the most clean, precise, and producer- driven sake out there. Made from special Yamada Nishiki short-grain rice famous for its use in highest- quality sake, about 50 percent of the original grain is polished away. Clean and fresh and bright, with delicate, complex flavors, it pairs well with sashimi, fatty nigiri sushi, uni, and king crab.

SPARKLING
This sake is relatively new to the market. Fermented a second time in bottles, similar to the Champagne process, it has about half the alcohol of other sakes and is slightly sweeter. Pairs well with eel, ebi, amaebi, tamago and spicy rolls, spicy foods in general, cheeses that are not too sharp, and even desserts.

NIGORI (CLOUDY)
Unfiltered and therefore nigori, or cloudy, in color, Nigori sake still contains rice solids that have not fermented. After the sediment settles on the bottom of the bottle, a quick shake will blend it back to its milky color. Nigori tends to have a bit more sweetness and a creamy texture that pairs well with more traditional Japanese dishes and is an excellent contrast to spicy foods.

HONJOZO
Consider this the catchall style of sake. Here, a small amount of alcohol is added to the fermenting sake brew. Lighter on the palate, Honjozo is less complex than some other sake grades but with a more prominent flavor. Equally easy to drink chilled or warm, it pairs well with most dishes.

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