Ming Tsai is on a mission—he wants to move sake out of Asian restaurants and into your backyard.
“It’s terrific with barbecue,” the enthusiastic celebrity chef, who owns Blue Ginger restaurant in Wellesley and Blue Dragon in Boston’s Fort Point neighborhood, told me. He says the very subtle sweetness of a quality sake would be great on its own or mixed into a summery sangria.
Surprised? Most people’s experience with sake is the hot version served in Japanese restaurants, but fine sake is never heated and should be treated more like white wine. Sake is made from rice, and quality is determined by how much of the outer hull of the rice grain is polished away, removing unpleasant flavors found in the hull.
Sake might be ready for its day in the sun—in addition to being tasty and pairing with dishes ranging from spicy to steak to seafood, it is lower in acid than wine, has no tannins and is gluten-free.
To see if sake might make it to my summer barbeque, when the mercury finally passed 40 degrees I chipped the ice off the grill and cooked up some chicken breasts marinated in soy sauce and sesame, as well as some burgers, then paired them with a couple of TY KU sakes. Tsai is TY KU’s culinary ambassador, and he says the quality of the product and the easy-to-pronounce name are aimed at making new inroads in the U.S. market.
The results were unexpectedly delicious—the floral and pear notes of TY KU Silver ($14.99), a premium sake with a slight sweetness, were refreshing, while the weight of it—the way it feels rolling around your mouth—helped it to stand up to the strong flavors of the chicken. TY KU Black ($21.99), a super premium, was richer and weightier, with ripe peach tones that paired well with the beef.
TY KU also makes a coconut flavored sake, light and not very sweet, that is delicious on its own or would make a great tropical cocktail. Dan Conde, owner/manager of Nasty Nonni’s Wine Shop in Saugus, carries about half a dozen sakes, including TY KU coconut, which he says is popular with customers looking for a unique cocktail mixer. Or maybe a surprising guest at your backyard barbeque. Kampai! ming.com