5 Foolproof Sushi and Sake Pairings

© John Kernick
By Justine Sterling Posted July 10, 2015

What do you drink with sushi? Sake is the obvious choice—but which one?

What do you drink with sushi? Sake is the obvious choice—but which one? At the new NYC outpost of Zuma, sommelier Samuel Davies approaches sake pairings in the same way he does wine pairings, matching or contrasting the flavor profile of the fish in the sushi with that of a particular sake. “When pairing sake with sashimi or sushi, it comes down to the oil content, fat content and protein content in the fish,” he says. “For example, sea bass is high in protein so you need a sake with high acidity to cut through and relieve the palate. Or if you have something fattier, richer, oilier like toro (fatty tuna), you can opt for a sake that has a little palate weight—something that accentuates the oils in the fish.” Here, Davies reveals his go-to pairings for five common sushi orders.

Salmon (Sake) + Ginjo Sake
Slightly oily with a clean finish and what Davies refers to as a “fruity” texture, salmon sashimi or sushi is best with a sake that mimics the fish’s flavors. He opts for a clean, slightly fruity, medium-bodied ginjo (a mid-range premium sake classification) like Dewazakura Oka Ginjo ($78).

Tuna (Akami) + Ginjo Sake
A regular grade of tuna (not toro) is best with a light and creamy ginjo. “We have our own brand, Zuma Ginjo, that’s produced in conjunction with the Akitabare brewery,” Davies says. “We came up with this sake to be drunk either as an aperitif or to work with many of the savory dishes on the menu. It’s light with a touch of rice and lychee and coconut aromatics. It’s soft and delicate. It’s slightly spicy and finishes dry.”

Yellowtail (Hamachi) + Junmai Ginjo Sake
“Yellowtail is quite oily but it does have some texture,” Davies says. “You need a sake that has a high level of acidity to create that palate balance but also something with a little bit of fruity weight.” He opts for Fukuju Junmai Ginjo ($34)—junmai means the sake is made without any added alcohol. “It’s quite modern, quite fruity, very aromatic and very lifted with a touch of sweetness,” he says. “It’s a little bit oily but finishes dry.” He especially likes that bottle with the restaurant’s signature spicy yellowtail maki roll, which includes jalapeño, yuzu mayonnaise and flying fish roe.

California Roll + Junmai Ginjo Sake
“With the crab and the way it’s prepared, a California roll can be very creamy and rich,” he says. “The flavor profile of our California roll, which is made with king crab, is quite heavy in the mouth and quite sweet. I would pair it with a sake that also has a little sweetness like the Dewazakura Omachi Junmai Ginjo ($40). A touch of sweetness can really support a full-flavored dish.”

Fluke (Hirami) + Daiginjo Sake
“At first bite fluke has a firm texture, but once it warms up in your mouth it melts away,” Davies says. “It’s a delicate fish—a little bit fruity but with no fish or ocean taste.” He pairs it with a super-premium, ultra-light daiginjo like Kokuryu Ryu Daiginjo ($89), “a very light, fragrant, elegant bottle.”

Related: How to Make Sushi at Home
21 Japanese Recipes
Ray Isle's Sake Buying Guide

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