Sushi may be the first pairing that springs to mind when you think about fish and saké, but it’s certainly not the only fish dish that saké can take to the next level. From briny oysters to that national favourite, fish and chips, the Japanese drink works in harmony with seafood of all sorts.
A cheat sheet for saké and seafood
Since preparations of seafood can vary greatly, there’s no hard-and-fast rule for finding the perfect saké companion to an oceanic meal. However, there are some general guiding principles that can help you choose a stellar saké for those mussels or that crispy cod.
Most seafood works well with a saké that is fresh and smooth, with slight fruitiness and citrus notes (consider the number of fish dishes that benefit from a squeeze of lemon). Delicate preparations – fresh oysters, seafood carpaccio – require a mild yet complex saké, so as not to overpower the dish’s flavour. With a fattier seafood dishes (oily fish or anything fried), you’ll want a saké with a bit more acidity and vibrancy, so that it can stand up to the food and maintain a presence.
Saké comes in many different forms
The details of harmony
In the mood for oysters and a glass of something special? Look beyond the bubbly or the Muscadet and opt for a floral yet dry junmai daiginjo saké with your bivalves instead. This highly regarded style – a saké with no brewer’s alcohol added, made from rice that’s been polished down to at least 50% of its original size – is delicate and refreshing. It provides just enough umami to balance the oysters’ brackish flavour and minerality, so that new complexities emerge from both the saké and the oysters.
But on days when only the golden-brown goodness of calamari or fish and chips will do, ask for a sparkling saké. Though this style of saké isn’t necessarily traditional, it’s gaining popularity because it ticks all the same boxes as Champagne, prosecco and aperitifs: it’s light, fun and celebratory. Sparkling styles are also typically less alcoholic than other sakés. They’re often a bit sweet and incredibly easy-drinking. And when it comes to food, they contrast beautifully with dishes like beer-battered haddock or deep-fried squid, as their lively acidity cuts through the salty, fatty richness.
Dousing your fish and chips with vinegar and tartare sauce? Squeezing plenty of lemon over your calamari? Making friends with that shaker of salt? Though these flavourful elements often prove problematic for wine pairings, sparkling sakés stand up to the task effortlessly – their slight sweetness offsets any saltiness, their fruitiness marries well with the pucker of citrus or vinegar, and their frothiness supports the creamy texture of tartare sauce. They’re an excellent companion to most white-fleshed fish (especially one that’s been battered and deep-fried to perfection).
Your guide to saké and seafood in London
If you’re keen to try saké out with seafood beyond sushi, try out some of our favourite combinations at these London restaurants.
Try the Colchester oyster with saké at Flat Three
Oysters and all-star saké at Flat Three
For a refined oyster and saké combination that brings out the best in both the drink and the dish, head to the sophisticated Holland Park restaurant Flat Three. Once you’ve taken in the stylish minimalist setting, order the Colchester oyster and gooseberry with the elegant Fair Maiden Kura no Hana Junmai Daiginjo. This multifaceted saké marries a floral nose with notes of anise. Its smooth airiness lets the marine salinity of the oyster shine, and its dryness keeps the tart flavour of the gooseberry at bay.
Not your usual chippy, try Akira's fish and chips with saké. Image Credit: Lee Mawdsley-lowres
Fish and chips meet elegance at Akira
Ready for the transformative experience that is drinking saké with fish and chips? You needn’t sneak a cheeky bottle into your local chippy – make your way to Akira at Japan House instead, and ask for the Keigetsu Sparkling John with an order of fish and chips with tartare sauce. The light, bubbly saké is beautiful in its simplicity, with bright lemon-zest qualities and a palate-cleansing dryness that elevates fish and chips to a sophisticated dining experience. And if you still haven’t had your fill of crispy seafood, order the crab and cream croquettes with salt and lemon as well. The Sparkling John manages to mellow the fattiness of the croquettes, bringing out the delicate flavour of the crab.
Deep fried squid is the must-have with saké at Flesh & Buns
Sparkles and squid at Flesh & Buns
For a different vibe, you can also get your deep-fried fix at the perennially hip Covent Garden establishment Flesh & Buns. There, both the cod tempura with green chilli mayo and the fried squid with Japanese pepper and lime work wonders with Mio Sparkling Saké. The saké’s green apple acidity and juicy sweetness make it highly gluggable with a variety of dishes – and at just 5% abv, you can happily sip it all evening. It’s particularly ideal with battered cod and squid, as its effervescence keeps fried dishes from becoming too heavy.
To read more about how saké is made and the best ways to enjoy it, click here.
To read about how to match saké with sushi, click here.
To read about matching saké and cheese, click here.
To read about pairing saké and prosciutto, click here.
And to find out more about food and saké matching, visit foodandsake.com.