Thursday 15 September 2011

Kanpai: a toast to recovery

It is coming up to the six-month anniversary of the horrific tsunami that hit Japan in March. For days the media seemed to speak of nothing else and then all fell silent. We were left to guess at how the Japanese were coping with the aftermath.
Last week the Embassy of Japan in London hosted the IWC award-winning sake tasting event to support the Kuramotos –the sake brewers- and those affected by the disaster. Ambassador Hayashi spoke movingly about the road to recovery and the support from around the world.
The evening started with a traditional sake ceremony and a toast. Kanpai! One of the producers representing the affected region lost more than 10,000 bottles. The walls of the brewery collapsed and machinery broke down. Amid numerous aftershocks they like many others are rising out of the debris to rebuild their business.
I started by tasting the “champion” sake made by Fukuchiyo Shuzo – Nabeshima Daiginjo a fortified brew, served cold; it was light, yet pleasingly flavourful. I went on to try their Tokubetsu Junmai – a pure rice sake; fresh tasting with underlying richness. Sake is wonderfully savoury and leaves a lingering umami aroma. Some varieties of sake are warmed before consumption but be warned warmed sake produces a mild buzz faster than sake served cold.
Sake is brewed using long grained, starch-rich, sake rice varieties. The rice is milled to a high starch nub. The starch is converted to sugar and then the sugar to alcohol at low temperature over a long period of time; resulting in high alcohol content. The Sake is then heated to kill the bacteria. How it is heated determines the taste. Togi – master brewer – Hitoshi Tsuschiya told me what distinguishes a Sake. “climate, water and the knowledge and expertise of the master brewer. His family had been making premium sake for 120 years.
Shimi saba – pickled mackerel
Sake is served in tiny drinking vessels with food. In Japan fish is served raw, sashimi style but mackerel is always pickled. When you make this recipe why not try a premium, pure rice, junmai Sake.

1 good size mackerel, sea bass, herring or seabream
Use one heaped teaspoon of coarse sea salt to 150 g of filleted mackerel.
1 bottle of mirrin
1 bottle of rice vinegar
fresh ginger root

1 x 250 ml preserving jar, washed in hot soapy water and dried in a warm oven until required.

Ask your fishmonger to fillet the fish for you. Run your fingers over the cut surfaces to check for pin bones and use a tweezers to remove them. Trim any ragged edges from the fish fillets and snip off any fins.
Lay the fillets out on a non metallic tray skin side down and sprinkle with salt, use less salt at the tail end of the fish where the flesh is thinner and more salt where the flesh is thicker. Leave over night.

Rinse the fish fillets and pat dry leaving them for a few minutes in the air to dry.
Cut the fillets slightly on the diagonal creating rhomboids 1- 2 cm long. And pack them into a sterilised glass preserving jar with a seal.

Top up with equal quantities of mirrin and rice vinegar and add a scraping of ginger root, say half a teaspoon. Seal the jar and leave in the fridge for a week.