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Sushi/Sashimi and Sake Pairings: The Ultimate Guide

sushi and sake pairings

Sushi/Sashimi and Sake pairings guide

Japan is world famous for its delicacies and yet, it is quite difficult to choose the right sake to go with your dinner. Just like for wine, there are different types that match more or less your food. In this blog article, we will talk about how to pair your favorite sushi and sashimi with your sake. 
We will give you some useful recommendations for each type of sake.

Let’s check it out!

assortment of sushi

Assortment of sushi

Japan offers different varieties of fish, mollusks and shellfish, where you can find them raw in supermarkets ready to eat. How much do you know? 

SUSHI or SASHIMI?

Traditionally, sashimi are preferred to go with sake in Japan rather than sushi because Japanese people don’t mix a dish that contains rice with a drink made from rice, but of course things changed and nowadays it is perfectly normal to see people having sushi while sipping a cup of sake

Japanese restaurants split up their fishes in categories like akami (red meat), shiromi (white meat) and hikarimono (fish with the silver skin left on). You can also find fresh shellfish, shrimp, squid and octopus in sushi and sashimi.

Assortment of sashimi and sake

Tuna (maguro): Akami, Chutoro and Otoro

In Japan, you can find different part of the tuna in sashimi or sushi. Tuna is called maguro (マグロ) in Japanese. You will usually find Bluefin tuna, Yellowfin tuna and Bigeye tuna in Japan.

All fish with red meat are all called akami (赤身) and tuna is part of it.

tuna_sushi

Assortment of tuna sushi

In tuna, Akami (top left of the picture) refers to the upper part of the back of the tuna and it is the most affordable part of the tuna. The meat has a deep red color, it is very low in fat but yet very tasteful. 

Chutoro (bottom of the picture) means medium fatty. 

Otoro (top right)
is the fattiest part of the tuna. The contents in fat are generous, it is a rare part of the tuna and extremely rich in nutrients, thus it is the most pricy part of the tuna.

The best match for these tuna sushi is a junmai shu type of sake, dry with a strong acidity level. After your sushi bite, when sipping your sake, you should feel a good harmony and well-balance feeling.

In general, just avoid fruity sakes, the flavor is too strong to go with tuna sushi.

Salmon

salmon-sushi

A set of salmon sushi

In recent years, salmon has become the most popular sushi because of its greasy taste and richness. Its affordable price is also one of the reason.

To bring out the sweetness of the fatty salmon, we recommend the honjozo shu type. This pairing improves upon the richness of the fat.

Fish with white meat (shiromi)

Kanpachi sashimi (Great Amberjack)

In general, white meat fish type is elegant and has a pale taste. Among the popular ones in Japan, we can cite the names of kanpachi (red amberjack), buri (yellow tail over 80 cm), hamachi (smaller size yellow tail), tai (sea bream), hirame (flounder), shima aji (striped jack) and many others. They are usually high in collagen and tender.

Winter yellowtail is the king of sashimi in the Sea of ​​Japan . It is characterized by its rich fat and strong sweet taste.

If you want to harmonize it with the fat content, use Junmaishu, which has an intermediate sweetness and dryness. We recommend you to have it with dry sake from the brewery on the Sea of ​​Japan side such as Kure Junmai Ginjo and Teppen Shimanto Junmai Ginjo from Kochi Preferecture which will fit perfectly with your meal!

Fish with silver skin left on (hikarimono)

Aji sashimi (horse mackerel)

Hikarimono includes Aji (horse mackerel), Saba (Pacific mackerel), Kisu (Japanese whiting), Sanma (Pacific saury), Iwashi (sardines) and many others. Silver-skinned fish all have high-fat content and the taste is heavy. Most of them loose their freshness quickly, so you can tell how well a restaurant is doing by which silver-skinned fish they serve.

Since it has a strong smell, it may be easier to match silver-skinned fishes with a sake that has a slightly alcoholic taste. Your sake will shows its true value when combined with these type of fish.

The sweet and sour juicy type don’t match very well.

shellfish (Kai)

Assortment of shellfish

Surprisingly, the most expensive sushi is shellfish! They have a taste between the rich flavor of fish with red meat (akami) and the subtle taste of the white fish meat (shiromi). There are so many types fo shellfish around the world, but in Japan, you can find the classic hotate (scallop), awabi (abalone), kaki (oyster), akagai (red clam), tsubu gai (whelk) and many others.

Squid (ika) and Octopus (tako)

ika-sushi

Squid sashimi (ika)

Squid (ika) is popular among the Japanese people, its slickness and firmness are appealing, and it has a refreshing taste. Season it with soy sauce and wasabi to accentuate the flavor. The taste and flavor intensifies with every bite you take! It’s so delicious that you’ll want to enjoy the taste as long as you can before swallowing.

There are many types of squid such as kensaki ika (swordtip squid), yari ika (spear squid) or surume ika (Pacific flying squid).

tako sashimi

Octopus sashimi (tako)

Octopus (tako) when served raw, has a light and smooth taste with a slimy texture. You will also find boiled octopus, which is crunchier.
The best sake to pair with is namazake (unpasteurized sake).

A bottle of junmai ginjo (Kure) and an assortment of sashimi

Conclusion

The key is to know whether you want to focus on your sushi or your sake.

We recommend you to pick a sake with a polishing rate to about 60% such as a Junmai Ginjo or a Ginjo if your meal is the main focus.

Pick a sake with a polishing rate over 70% such as Junmai or Honjozo if you prefer to focus on your sake as their flavor is stronger than the fish. 

If you are unsure about the polishing ratio of your sake bottle, you can read our blog article about How to read a sake label here.

I hope you had a pleasant reading here!

The Nihonshu team

The Nihonshu

Drinking too much alcohol can harm your health. Please drink responsibly.

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