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Saké and shellfish: umami alchemy!

Saké and shellfish: umami alchemy!

I consider myself to be fairly food-savvy, so I was shocked to discover just how much I DIDN'T know about saké. Last year's Sake and Shellfish Pairing Master Class was a game changer.

I used to think saké had two basic varieties: warm and cold.  Yes, I was that naïve, and I think many Americans are.  I now know saké is as varied and complex as wine. But what impressed me most about the saké we sipped at the class was not how unique and delicious each was on its own (although they were delicious), but the way in which the combination of saké and shellfish yielded a taste experience that was far more than the sum of its parts.

Monica and Julie will explain this at the upcoming class, but basically, flavor alchemy happens when glutamate in the saké reacts with ribonucleotides in the shellfish, which "catalyzes a synergistic flavor magic through which the best qualities of both drink and food emerge." You can read the full semi-science wonk article from which I got that quote here, or this one from the LA Times which puts it in more layman's terms:

“It is magical.” said Chris Johnson, certified sake sommelier and one of the few elite “Sake Samurai.”

“Sake, because of its natural umami, elevates your food experience. When you taste the sake with the seafood, you taste the nuances and flavors spread across your tongue. The savory, or deliciousness of the base ingredients shine, they sneak to the sides of your mouth and scream ‘yummy!’”

OK, maybe you're skeptical.  I know I was.  I'd heard for years that certain wines could bring out the very best in food, but I'd never experienced it first hand. I guess I have a plebeian palate: I sympathized with George Castanza wanting to bring Pepsi to a party rather than wine.  And I realize since I want folks to join us for this class, I'm not unbiased, but OMG, sipping saké from an oyster shell is MAGICAL.  We did this last year and it was just amazing.  

To underscore just how special saké is, here's another quote from the science-wonky article:

Average umami flavor content in selected beverages:

The researchers studied eight sakes, nine types of white, rosé, and sparkling wines, nine champagnes, and five types of beer. Here is the average umami content for each beverage class:

  • Sake = 20.1
  • Beer = 5.7
  • Champagne = 4.2
  • Wines = 3.5

So there you have it.  Maybe wine can bring out the best in foods, but I've never been able to experience it.  But saké is a very different story: it's sort of like a pairing tool with training wheels:  I suspect just about anyone can experience its magic.

If you want to experience a true flavor explosion, join us on Saturday, February 19th for the second Sake and Shellfish Pairing Master Class.  The class is intended for two people, but you could certainly do it on your own (more saké, more shellfish!), and you could even have 3 or 4 people view from one Zoom screen, although I suspect you'll want more saké :)

Last year we did this because we were in the midst of Covid and in-person events were close to impossible.  But I actually really like how the Zoom tasting went: it allowed people from all over the country to enjoy a collaborative experience.  The format will be mostly "presentational": Monica, Julie and I will each speak about our areas of expertise as we conduct the tasting, but then we'll have time at the end for an informal discussion.

The class is $200 and includes the following:

    • Three 300 ml bottles of saké (3 varieties) shipped directly from Vine Connections
    • One dozen oysters (6 each of two varieties)
    • One pound of Downeast Dayboat scallops (8 oz each of 2 varieties)
    • Crispy fried shallots and chili paste required to make Thai Scallop Crudo
    • Tasting journals: 33 Oysters on the Half Shell and 33 Cups of Sake, which will help you record your impressions

If you order by February 2nd and use Promo Code sake you'll receive $15 off the event.

Oh, and don't worry about buying special glasses for the sake.  They're cute and all, but a regular wine glass is actually a great way to enjoy saké.

In closing, I'll ask a favor of you:  if you've got food and drink-loving friends, will you let them know about this event?  I'd love to have a big group participate.  And do you belong to food-loving groups on FB or other platforms?  I'd love to spread the word about the magic of shellfish and saké so please help me spread the word.  I hope to see you on the 19th!


Thanks for reading everyone.  - Togue

This is Waylon in a photo from last summer.  Sometimes in the depths of winter I like to review summer photos to remind myself that soon I'll be able to go outside without my face hurting - it's been brutally cold lately!

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1 comment

  • Received my bottles of Saki. Should any of them be chilled (or warmed).

    Sean Bellinger on

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