I first spoke with Marc Smookler, the owner/founder of Sake Social, by far the largest online retailer in the U.S. for Japanese sake. He and his business partners have devoted many hundreds of hours to tasting through available imported sake from Japan and choosing the best to offer their customers. Marc also has a string of other successful web companies behind him, so he knows how to create valuable products and services.
When I was poking around in Sake Social’s website, specifically in the Food Pairings section, I saw a link for Mac and Cheese. The link actually took me to a number of available sake they’ve determined go well with mac and cheese. Good to know!
But the overarching concept took me down the rabbit hole—or maybe through a wormhole—to the following night of sublimity. Here was the menu we put together.
Ozeki Karatumba “Dry Wave” Sake
Ozeki Nigori Sake
Hakatsuru Junmai Sake
Window’s Migaki Gold Shochu
1.) The Food Lab’s Cheddar and American Cheese Stovetop Mac
Smoked White Fish and Shredded Nori Mac
2.) Miso, Sake, White Cheddar, Fontina and White American Cheese Bechemel Mac
Braised Short Rib with Green Onion Mac
Japanese Cucumber, Black Sesame and Green Onion Mac
Holy moly! These mac and cheese recipes were off the charts, thanks to Chef Trevor’s execution. They were also so good with the sake and shochu. The Window’s Magaki tasted like a light, smoky Scotch when paired with the smoked whitefish nori mac.
We tasted each mac with each bottle to find the best pairings. All of the bottles had a slight chill on them. For me, there were some clear standout matches.
Ozeki Karatumba “Dry Wave” Sake paired beautifully with the Kimchi Mac. We bought pre-made kimchi (a Korean side dish of vinegary, salted cabbage, radish, leeks, and onions) and simply added it to the first mac and cheese base. Paired with the steely, crushed stone and silky vanilla of the Ozeki Karatumba, this stand out mac dish shone with the flavors of a lush garden, brine, and delicious cheddar. A / $31
Ozeki Nigori Sake paired beautifully with the Japanese Cucumber, Black Sesame Mac. This mac seemed the most outlandish to me when I first thought of it. I mean, cucumber? But it worked so well. The Ozeki Nigori is sweet and creamy, so the cool crunch of the cucumber, supported by sesame, piquant green onion, and the umami of the second mac and cheese base had a sumptuous and refreshing taste. You can also drink this sake as dessert. B+ / $27
Hakatsuru Junmai Sake paired beautifully with the Short Rib Mac. This sake is probably the most all-around crowd pleaser here. Its clean, fruity palate is mouthwatering with a lingering finish that offers just the right amount of heat. It cut the richness of the stunning, pressure-cooked, boneless short rib over the second mac base, refreshing our taste buds with each sip. A- / $25
Window’s Migaki Gold Shochu paired beautifully with the Smoked Whitefish Shredded Nori Mac. We started and finished with the Migaki Shochu on its own, and I can recommend it as an aperitif and a digestif. Shochu is a different drink altogether than sake, a distilled liquor that’s higher in alcohol. It tasted like soft, dewy reeds, with a grippy, woody finish that offered a trace of sweetness on the back palate. When we tasted it with the whitefish mac, it underwent a metamorphosis into what could pass blind as a delicate Scotch. It was one of those pairings where you truly understand the transformative power that what you drink has over what you eat, and visa versa. A / $38
Try it yourself! Sake Social has a huge selection of Japanese imported sake and also has various clubs you can belong to and simply summon the sake straight to your door.
People may think of sake as rice wine, but it’s really its own thing entirely. It is not what we know as wine, nor beer. It’s an alcohol steeped in Japanese history and practice with exquisite subtleties, perhaps even finer than the subtleties of wine. That’s not to say that any beverage is superior or finer than any other beyond personal taste, just that there is a world of taste appreciation in sake unlike what we’re familiar with in the U.S.
Broaden your sensory experiences and connoisseur horizons and add sake to your table. I think you’ll enjoy it.