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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Quality of sake used in cooking depends on the recipe

 •  Versatility of sake makes it great for cooking

By Wanda A. Adams
Advertiser Food Editor

Sake is a standard ingredient in Japanese kitchens, analogous to wine in Western kitchens, used for braising, in stocks, in sauces and in marinades.

The most common cooking styles in which sake is used are mushimono (steamed dishes), nimono (simmered dishes) and as a marinade before cooking in yakimono (grilled and fried dishes).

A classic example is sakamushi, in which sake and salt are sprinkled on top of fish fillets or boneless cuts of chicken that are then steamed in heat-proof ceramic bowls and served with a drizzle of shoyu or ponzu sauce. Whole fish such as small flounders also are often simmered in a stock of sake, mirin, dashi (a bonito and kelp broth), shoyu and sugar.

As in cooking with wine, the quality of sake you choose for recipes depends on the use. If the sake is appearing in a delicate sauce or a light braising liquid that's to be served with food, then choose a fine ginjo or even daiginjo. But if you're preparing a dish that's rustic and hearty, with other powerful flavors such as miso or dark shoyu, you can use a lesser quality sake, or even leftover stale sake.

The pork recipe below is izakaya-style bar food, meant to be dipped in spicy hot mustard or smeared with wasabi and munched along with chilled sake or beer. In testing the recipe, I used thick, well-marbled Island-grown pork shoulder steaks trimmed of the wide edge of fat ($3.69 a pound at Daiei Kaheka). You need well-marbled meat for this dish. Very lean pork would be too dry.

To reduce the sodium, I used the light-salt Kikkoman (green cap). The dashi was instant dashi — 1 teaspoon powder to a cup of water; homemade dashi would be better.

The dish resembles rafute, an Okinawan specialty in which a fatty cut of meat is slowly simmered in hot liquid, so that some of the fat melts away and the flavors concentrate. In this case, the first simmering liquid is discarded, the sake flavors having permeated the meat. This dish can be served hot or at room temperature. When cooking is finished, just let the pork cool naturally in the liquid until it is served.

Note that as in many simmered recipes from Japan, a "drop-lid" technique is used here to assure that the meat remains submerged so as not to dry out during cooking. In Japan, a wooden lid from a slightly smaller pot often is floated on the liquid.

Pork Sake Pupu

  • 2 1/2 pounds pork shoulder
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 3 cups sake
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 cup dashi (made from powdered mix)
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon red miso
  • Cut pork shoulder into 2-inch cubes, trimming fat.

Heat vegetable oil in heavy skillet over high heat and brown pork on all sides. Pour in 2 cups sake and 2 cups water and simmer for 90 minutes over very low heat; the broth should be just gently rippling with small bubbles at the edges.

Pour pork into colander, straining off and discarding cooking liquid. Return pork to pot and add additional 1 cup of sake, along with shoyu, dashi, brown sugar and miso. Simmer another 90 minutes with a heavy, heat-proof plate or pot lid placed directly on the pork; cover.

Serve as a pupu with wasabi or hot mustard.

• Per serving (without wasabi or mustard): 420 calories, 20 g total fat, 6 g saturated fat, 120 mg cholesterol, 730 mg sodium, 7 g carbohydrates, 0 g fiber, 5 g sugar, 34 g protein.