Sunday, 7 March 2010

Blowfish fin Sake, and other curiosities

Have you ever eaten a blowfish? They're highly poisonous and if cooked incorrectly can cause all number of exciting symptoms: intoxication, light-headedness, numbness of the lips, dizziness and deadening of the tongue to name but a few.

Extreme eaters seek out blowfish in the hope of experiencing some of these strange sensations. In severe cases, eating a dodgy blowfish can result in death, as the poison can paralyze your diaphragm muscles, leading to suffocation. It can also cause comas that last several days where you remain semi-conscious.

I'm all for new experiences and pushing the envelope, but have to admit to being more than a little nervous about sipping on the blowfish fin Sake I was offered last Thursday at a delightfully curious Sake tasting in the basement of Chisou, a sushi restaurant in Oxford Circus.

The cup was being passed round and it would have been rude to refuse, so I took a deep breath and hoped for the best. The Sake was served warm and had a potent nose of mushroom, truffle, forest floor, cigar smoke, earth, peat and charcoal. It tasted, unsurprisingly, of fish, but after a few seconds the fishiness subsided, clearing the way for the forest floor aromas to reappear. Potent, pungent and intense, a couple of sips told me all I needed to know. After a minute I hadn't keeled over, which I took as a good sign. Not a numb lip in sight.

The event aimed to showcase a series of Sakes from Okayama, a city in the Chugoku region of Japan. Three producers had flown in, and were showing four Sakes each. I'm a Sake novice, but enjoyed getting stuck into the tasting, applying my wine knowledge wherever I could.

We were asked to analyse the aroma, flavour and balance, much like you would a wine. One of the producers tells me (via his translator) that in order to make a quality Sake you need three things: good rice, good water and a good brewing technique.

Before it's fermented, the rice is polished to remove the protein and oils, leaving the starch behind. The quality of the Sake depends on how polished the rice is. A grain can be polished up to 30% of its original size, and the more polished the grains, the more refined the Sake.

After trying a few, I realise it's impossible to apply wine speak to Sake. The vocabulary is much narrower. Sake styles are described simply as being fruity, dry, or sweet rather than through a ream of descriptors.

The latest trend in Japan is for fruit-flavoured Sake liquors made with peach, pear and plum. They were all pleasant enough, but the low alcohol and pulpy texture made them more like an Innocent Smoothy than a Sake. My favourite was the Gyutto Tesgibori Yuzu Shu, made from hand-squeezed yuzu juice, a small citrus fruit like a sour mandarin. Mouth-puckering, zingy and fresh, the lemony flavour danced around my mouth and brought it to life. I wanted to put the bottle up my jumper and run out the door it was so delicious.

I was excited to see a pink Sake in the line-up that would make Hello Kitty proud. At 13.5% abv, it had more of a kick than the peach, pear and plum, but it looked like milkshake and tasted like alcoholic strawberry Yop. A drink for naughty schoolgirls. There were plenty of serious Sakes on show, but they took our tasting sheets away at the end for feedback, so it's hard to remember what they tasted like. The Bizenmaboroshi was a highlight. It won a trophy at the IWSC last year, and had a delicate, sweet nose and full, rounded palate.

Our entertainment for the evening came in the form of Yoko Hallelujah, a diminutive Japanese Beatles fanatic armed with a jewel-encrusted acoustic guitar. She belted out fab four classics with brio, as we slurped our way round the remainder of the Sakes.

No comments:

Post a Comment