Category Archives: UK

Sakura Rhubarb Jelly

nam zest

It’s still pink blossom time here so delicate pink preparations are in vogue. Pink frosting is an easy option on cakes for a seasonal dessert, but how about something with a less sweet taste, something that can work as either a dessert or a palate reviver between courses, either Japanese or Western?

Rhubarb is flourishing at this time of year and it looks pink, at least when it’s growing, although it tends to lose that blush when it’s cooked. Its sharp tang has been prized and traditionally used in English puddings. Here I present another option and it’s a sakura-rhubarb-jelly-weblight jelly – perfect for modern tastes.

1kg Rhubarb, cut into 1-2cm lengths

850ml water

120g sugar or to taste

1 drop red food colouring (optional)

6 leaves of gelatine soaked in water to soften, or follow the instructions on the box for setting 750ml of liquid.

Pink blossoms as garnish (optional)

You will also need some muslin for straining.

Place the rhubarb and water in a large pan. Bring to the boil and simmer till the rhubarb is tender.

Strain the rhubarb and liquid through a fine-mesh strainer and then pass the resulting clear liquid through a couple of layers of muslin. Measure 750ml. Reserve the cooked rhubarb for use in desserts later.

Return the liquid to a clean pan and add enough sugar to give a slightly sharp flavour. Add jelly-2-weba very small amount of red food colour, if using, to give a pleasing pink hue.

Simmer the liquid till all the sugar has dissolved and add the gelatine but not its water. Stir till all the gelatine has dissolved. Allow the liquid to cool slightly.

Fill champagne glasses, wine glasses, fruit salad glasses, tea glasses or sake cups with the cooling liquid. When they have cooled to room temperature put them in the fridge for 4 or 5 hours. Decorate as desired and serve.

You will still have the cooked rhubarb left over – this will be delicious made into rhubarb and strawberry crumble, or a rhubarb cake to go with a nice cup of tea. Two dishes for the price of one.

Rafute – Okinawan braised pork belly

nam zestThis is one of my favourite ways of eating pork. Rafute is flavourful, tender and moreish. It’s a dish popular in Okinawa in the far (very far) south-west of Japan. It’s traditionally made with two local staples – Awamori, which is Okinawa’s celebrated spirit, and the island’s brown sugar, which is often made into candy.

I have substituted Japanese sake or western vodka for the Awamori which isn’t very readily available outside Japan, and I have used dark brown sugar instead of the classic Okinawan sugar, kokuto, which I have never found in London. The flavour will be a little different from the original dish but it will still be delightful.

Ingredients:Okinawa 2

1 kg piece    boneless pork belly, skin on
250 ml     dry sake or vodka
125 ml    dark soy sauce – preferably Japanese
120 g     dark brown sugar
130 ml   mirin
8     thin slices fresh ginger

To serve: English mustard or French grain mustard, a few green beans, chopped spring onions and soy sauce.


Place the pork belly in a large saucepan, cover with cold water and bring to the boil. Boil for 2 minutes, then remove the pan from the heat, discard the water and rinse any scum from both pork and saucepan. Return the pork to the pan and cover with cold water. Place over medium heat and bring to a gentle simmer. Cover and cook for 1 hour. Or place in a slow cooker (crockpot) and cook on High for 2½ hours.

Remove the pork from the pan or slow cooker, reserving the cooking liquid, then cut the meat into 5 cm squares. Place the pork pieces in another saucepan and add the sake or vodka, soy sauce, sugar, mirin and ginger. Add enough of the reserved cooking liquid to cover the pork by half a centimetre. Cover and cook over medium-low heat for 1½ hours or until the pork is very tender. Remove the pork and keep warm but continue to cook the liquid to reduce a little. This should take 5 or 10 minutes.

Arrange the pork pieces in a warm dish and pour over the braising liquid (you can freeze the remaining liquid for future use). Serve with mustard and extra soy sauce. Sprinkle over the spring onions and green beans.

Spring Cocktail – Sake Crantini

nam zest

The colours of Sakura blossoms are everywhere – even in London. It’s Spring – the grey skies are leaving us and the trees welcome these warmer days with pastel pink.

There is a cherry blossom, or Sakura, season which travels across Japan. It starts on the islands of Okinawa in the far south west in February and finishes in northern Hokkaido in May. Weather conditions govern the dates of the season but whenever it arrives there are celebrations and festivals.

The tradition of hanami or cherry blossom-sakuratini-webviewing goes back centuries. The festival had great importance in former times because it announced the rice-planting season and was used to predict the year’s harvest. The blossom’s short-lived beauty is also considered a metaphor for life. The Japanese believed the Sakura trees contained spirits; sake was offered to them and this became the hanami party.

I wanted to make a delicate pink cocktail to represent the beauty of this Sakura season. I also wanted to use sake. Japan has once again been hit by devastating earthquakes so a cocktail with junmai dry sake not only offers support for the future of the sake industry but also celebrates the fortitude of Japan and its rich culture.

Sake Crantini

1 part cranberry juice and 1 part vodka added to 2 parts dry sake
1 part Cranberry vodka and 1 part dry sake

Shake with plenty of ice and serve in a martini glass. Float a blossom on top, if you have such a thing.

If you want to make your own cranberry vodka then take 500g of fresh or frozen cranberries and add to 1 litre of vodka in a glass or ceramic jug. Leave to infuse in a cool dark place for 3 weeks, shaking every few days. Strain and bottle.

The advantage of this recipe is that you still have the cranberries, which can be made into sauces and desserts. They are particularly delicious at Christmas when mixed with traditional sweet mincemeat and used as a topping for a tart – perhaps served with a glass of Sake Crantini alongside.

Sake: History, Stories & Craft of Japan’s Artisanal Breweries

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Sake: The History, Stories and Craft of Japan’s Artisanal Breweries

I was told to expect a book. I was told to expect a big book. I was told to expect a coffee-table book. What I got was a book the size of a coffee table but one which will hold my attention long after the furniture would have lost its purely functional appeal.

Sake: The History, Stories and Craft of Japan’s Artisanal Breweries (yes, the title fits the proportions of the book) is organic in its style and appropriate for the subject. The cover is fabric in a cool winter-sky blue with simple black text. Unfussy, crisp and displaying Japanese taste for minimalism.  One naturally opens the volume with respect.

This is a heavy tome but not heavy reading. It’s a sake story book that will be the volume of choice for any lover of sake or things Japanese with which to snuggle. It’s a picture book over which to pore. Images of craft and continuity are showcased to beautiful effect. Sake: The History, Stories and Craft of Japan’s Artisanal Breweries is encyclopaedia of somsake booke of the most significant breweries (including 10 shōchū distilleries and 5 Okinawan awamori distilleries), looking at sake and those Japanese spirits. It features 60 or so breweries, with each chapter focusing on the families who have, often for many generations, dedicated their lives to the production of Japan’s iconic beverage. The book displays the diversity of brewing methods that produce such changes in flavour around Japan.

The striking photography is by one of the world’s most renowned travel photographers, Jason Lang. He transmits to us the spirit both of sake and of those who labour to make it. He shows the reality of the process, its beauty and charm. Steam, warm rice, brewers and landscape populate these pages. He captures the environment with shots of rugged faces and frosted fields. Vignettes of traditional brewery slippers, high technology and natural wood. Anyone who has visited a sake brewery will be convinced that they can actually smell fermenting mash between these pages.

Sake: The History, Stories and Craft of Japan’s Artisanal Breweries will appeal to a wide audience. For the untutored, it will open a door to sake and introduce the characters who make that distinctive drink possible. For lovers of sake who want to learn more, there is a raft of information to study and muse upon. It’s a book about sake but equally about people and the relationship between the two.

Sake: The History, Stories and Craft of Japan’s Artisanal Breweries
Authors: Hayato Hishinuma, Elliot Faber
Published by: Gatehouse Publishing
Price: £75.00
ISBN-10: 9810795289
ISBN-13: 978-9810795283

Sake: what you didn’t know

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In truth the title of this week’s blog post should be ‘Sake: what you didn’t know and what I didn’t know a few years ago’. You can see that it’s a bit of a mouthful but you will appreciate where I am going with this one. I ask the questions for all of you who want to know more, and I hope to make sake more accessible to people who have nothing to do with the drinks industry, but just drink for fun. Luckily, these days you can take a course just for pleasure or to enhance your professional career.

I have had a long love of Japan and all things Japanese, although I only had my first trip to those islands a couple of years ago. I was, however, given the opportunity to learn about sake by the Sake Sommelier Association a number of years before that. They opened the floodgates of knowledge and set me on a path that has been deliciously absorbing, periodically challenging …and one which I am now enjoying immensely.

None of us are born sake experts, even Japanese! We taste, we savour, ask questions, ask more questions and we learn. It’s all a matter of exposure and we have not had that in the West until relatively recently. I had always heard sake referred to as ‘rice wine’. I could never quite understand how one could possibly get wine from grains of rice. How much juice could you get out of those things? In fact sake is a brewed alcohol made by fermenting sake jugs and ochokorice, and the process has more in common with beer-making than the production of wine.  To refer to sake as a wine does sake no favours, in my opinion. The prospective sipper will likely be drawn to expect a familiar fruity flavour, possibly awash with blackberries, a cheeky hint of red plum and a suspicion of mango. I note that it’s rare that a wine expert will ever describe a nice bottle of red as tasting of grapes! Sake has a very different taste palate but one that is just as complex and vibrant as is that for wine.

Sake, at least up until a few years ago, was misunderstood or a complete mystery but people were sure of a few indisputable truths: 1. Sake was the source of hangovers the magnitude of which would prompt the sufferer to sign the pledge. 2. It’s as strong as vodka and would see the unwary under the table before the night was through.

leaf-bbq-webLet’s take number 1. Sake has been no more responsible for hangovers than any other alcoholic beverage. In fact sake is said to have less ‘day-after effect’ than many other alcoholic drinks as it’s quite pure. Sake is these days considered a high-end drink for the discerning. Its reputation is now for quality and is enjoyed by those who want to taste sake on its own (in sensible quantities) or with food, and that food doesn’t have to be Japanese. Sake is now taken seriously by the whole professional wine and spirits world. Number 2. Sake will not see the unwary under the table, firstly because Japanese tables are low and secondly sake is sold at a level of alcohol of only 14 to 18%. A bottle of sake is usually slightly smaller than a bottle of wine, but the servings are smaller for the same amount of alcohol. I recommend sipping sake from traditional small sake cups, which will encourage the drinker to linger and enjoy the experience. Always drink in moderation, as the wise would advise.

Sake is a fascinating drink with charm, complexity, nuance, history and culture, and now it’s easy for people to take a course to learn more.