Saké and Kappa-ya in Galway city

Sally Barnes of Woodcock Smokery near Skibbereen, beat over 4,500 entries to win the title of Supreme Champion,
More news from Carmel Somers

I’ve only tasted saké once or twice in Japanese restaurants, it seemed to be the appropriate beverage to drink with a Japanese meal but what I tasted was distinctly underwhelming. It came in a porcelain ‘bud vase’ and was served warm in little thimble like containers, a drink to be endured rather than enjoyed. 
Saké has played a central role in Japanese life for over 2,000 years, so I knew there had to be something more exciting on offer.

Well, as luck would have it, I recently received a beautifully embossed invitation from the Japanese Ambassador to a Saké Tasting at Kappa-ya in Galway city. This little restaurant, owned by Junichi Yoshiyagawa and Yoshimi Hayakawa, has been on my ‘must do’ list for over a year now. Good news travels fast in the restaurant world and I’d heard about the delicious food that was making waves in foodie circles in Galway, so – a double whammy.

Saké is Japan’s national drink, its most ancient and sacred beverage. Even today saké plays a profound role in native Shinto belief. Tiny cups of saké are placed as offerings in domestic shrines at festive times of the year. In the Shinto wedding ceremony, it is the exchange of cups and the drinking of saké that seals the marriage vows.

Saké is a clear liquid made from fermented rice and water with an alcohol content of 14-17%. Steamed white rice is inoculated with a special mould (koji kabi; Aspergillus oryzae) and then fermentation occurs. It takes 45-60 days to produce saké from start to finish. There is no ageing period involved. Unlike wine or distilled spirits, saké can be drunk immediately, in fact some people believe that it is best drunk within three months of bottling. Saké has no vintage years and is best drunk within a year of being made. Unlike wine, ageing doesn’t enhance the flavour. Because it is fermented rather than distilled, it should be drunk reasonably quickly once the bottle is opened.

The best saké is made from the finest rice and the purest water. Much of Japan’s saké is mass produced nowadays, but there are still some traditional breweries which continue to produce saké in a time honoured way.

Recently I met Mr Kujeihi Kuno, the current director of Banjo Jozo, founded in 1647. He is the fifteenth generation to bear the family’s professional name, and the ninth generation to specialize in saké production. This innovative traditionalist brought his artisan sakés from Japan and proudly served them with Junichi’s delicious food. 

Not one was served lukewarm, some were chilled, others enjoyed at room temperature. Each was fresh and delicious with hints of melon, bitter almonds, seaweed and spices – the experience was a revelation after my earlier experiences with warm sweet saké. Hopefully these superb sakés will be available on the Irish market before too long.

From the cook’s point of view, saké has many desirable attributes. The Japanese have long been aware that rice wine is a tenderizer. It is one of the ‘big 4’ of Japanese cooking ingredients, coupled with dashi stock, soy sauce and miso fermented bean paste. The amino acids in the saké tenderize. Saké also has the effect of repressing saltiness, takes away strong smells and helps to eliminate fishy tastes. It also makes a delicious aperitif, but carefully partnered with Junichi’s Japanese food as chosen by Enrico Fantasia, it was sublime. Contact the Japanese Embassy for details of availability – 01-2028300.

Kappa-ya, 4 Middle Street, Galway. Tel 086-3543616 

Here is a recipe from Kappa-ya

Tori no sakamushi (Steamed Chicken)
Serves 1

1 free range chicken breast

Sake 50cc
Salt & Pepper pinch
Ginger 1 slice, crushed
Garlic 1 slice, crushed
Leek 10cm, chopped
Scallions half bunch finely chopped
Sauce; Ponzu:Sesame oil=2:1

Season the chicken breast with salt and freshly ground pepper and put onto a deep plate.
Cover the chicken with saké.
Sprinkle the ginger, garlic and leeks onto the chicken, then cover the plate with cling film.

Steam it in the oven or steamer for 15-20min.

Leave the chicken in the sake to cool, (in this process, all flavour goes into the chicken) Cut chicken into bite size pieces. It will be delicious to eat at room temperature or re-heated. Put chopped scallions into a bowl of cold water for 5 minutes to remove the bitterness. Strain.
Spoon the sauce over the chicken and sprinkle with the chopped scallions.

Coincidentally I just got a copy of a new Japanese Cookbook - Japanese Pure and Simple by Kimiko Barber, published by Kyle Cathie. 
Buy this Book from Amazon

Japanese food is synonymous with great health – from fighting the effects of ageing, to reducing the risk of cancer and shedding excess pounds. The benefits of the Japanese diet are out in the press, and its unique combinations and subtle, sophisticated flavours have created a huge market for trendy sushi bars and Japanese restaurants. But the food itself is not complicated, and once you understand the washoku philosophy of food, there is no dish that cannot be made in your home – which, let’s face it, is the most nourishing, healthy way to feed yourself and family.

Kimiko Barber was born in Kobe, Japan and arrived in UK in 972. After over ten years in investment banking in both London and Tokyo, a chance visit to Books for Cooks, a Mecca for foodies in Notting Hill, inspired her to change her career and focus on cooking and entertaining. She teaches Japanese and Asian fusion cooking in various cooking schools. Her first book Sushi Taste and Technique won the bronze award in Best Food Book category in Jacob’s Creek World Food Media Awards. She is an enthusiastic organic kitchen gardener.

Here are some recipes from the book.

Seared Beef Salad with Watercress and Grapefruit
This cooking method is called tataki, which literally means ‘to hit’ or ‘to beat’: you hit the meat with the palm of your hand to flatten and tenderise it. Traditionally the seared meat is plunged into iced water to stop further cooking and to tighten it. ‘But recently I have used rice vinegar instead – the purpose of searing is not to cook the meat through but to burn off the fat and seal in the taste, whereas plunging it in ice water will congeal the fat you are trying to get rid of’ (Kimiko Barber).

200g (7oz) rump or sirloin steak
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
Salt and black pepper
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 grapefruit, segmented
100g (3½oz) watercress, trimmed
100g (3½oz) rocket
1 pack of salad cress

For the salad dressing:
Juice of 1 grapefruit
100g (3½oz) grated fresh ginger juice*
1 teaspoon sugar
4 tablespoons soy sauce

Take the meat out of the fridge and let it come to room temperature (as cold meat is tough and takes longer to cook).

Brush the meat with the vegetable oil and rub with salt and pepper. Heat a griddle pan over a high heat and sear the meat on both sides. Place the meat on a chopping board and let it cool enough to handle. With a sharp knife, slice the meat into 5mm (¼in) thick slices and pour over the rice vinegar. Separate each slice and give it a light but firm slap with the palm of your hand.

Remove the pellicle (thin skin) from each grapefruit segment. Put the watercress, rocket, salad cress and grapefruit in a salad bowl and arrange the meat on top. Mix the dressing ingredients, pour over the salad, toss and serve.

*To extract the juice from grated ginger, simply squeeze it and discard the fibrous remains.

This recipe can work very well as a main course for a smart dinner party. You can change the combination of salad to suit your preference.

Teriyaki Pork Steak
Succulent tender pork steak is perfectly matched with nutty sweet teriyaki sauce and a dash of rice vinegar highlights the tastes and flavours.

4 pork steaks, each weighing 125g (4½oz)
4 tablespoons cornflour
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
4 tablespoons rice vinegar
Handful of watercress

For the teriyaki sauce:
4 tablespoons sake
4 tablespoons mirin
2 tablespoons sugar
4 tablespoons soy sauce
50g (2oz) fresh ginger, peeled and grated

Take the meat out of the fridge at least 30 minutes before cooking. Dust the steaks with the cornflour. Heat a frying pan over a moderate/low heat and add the vegetable oil. Sauté the steaks for 3 minutes on each side, then reduce the heat and cover the pan with a lid to steam-cook for a further 5 minutes.

Remove the lid and add all the ingredients for the teriyaki sauce. Shake the pan to coat the steaks evenly with the sauce and reduce it a little. Add the rice vinegar and stir the sauce. Remove the steaks and cut them into bite-sized pieces. Arrange the meat on individual plates, drizzle over the sauce and serve with a garnish of watercress.

This teriyaki cooking sauce works well with lamb chops. Serve with cauliflower miso gratin or leek and carrot mini frittatas.

Prawn, pomegranate and green chilli sushi
The pomegranate originates in the Middle East and is widespread throughout Asia. They were brought to Japan from China in the twelfth century; the flowers were used for ornamental and the fruits for medicinal purposes. There are many references to them in mediaeval Japanese paintings and literature.

2 ripe pomegranates
4 tablespoons pomegranate juice
350g (12oz) prepared sushi rice – see recipe 
200g (7oz) cooked prawns
1-2 large green chillies, finely chopped
Few sprigs of coriander and mint leaves

Halve the pomegranates horizontally, separate the individual fruitlets from the rind and reserve. Moisten the inside of a large mixing bowl with 2 tablespoons of the pomegranate juice to stop the rice sticking. Add the prepared sushi rice, sprinkle over the remainder of the pomegranate juice to separate the rice and mix. Add the cooked prawns, chopped chillies and reserved pomegranate and mix with a flat spatula in a cut-and-turn motion. Transfer the sushi mixture into either a large serving dish or individual dishes. Garnish with the coriander and mint leaves and serve.
This recipe works equally well with white crabmeat instead of prawns.

Isaac’s Sushi Rice
450g (1lb) sushi rice ” No 1 Extra Fancy”

600ml (1 pint) water

Vinegar Water

50ml (2fl oz) rice wine vinegar
1½ tablespoons sugar
2½ teaspoons salt

Rinse the rice for 10 minutes in a colander or sieve under cold running water or until the water becomes clear.

‘Wake up’ the rice by sitting it in 600ml (1pint) cold water for 30 to 45 minutes. In the same water, bring to the boil and then cook for 10 minutes until all the water has been absorbed. Do not stir, do not even take off the lid. Turn up the heat for 10 seconds before turning the heat off. Remove the lid, place a tea towel over the rice, replace the lid and sit for 20 minutes.

Mix the rice wine vinegar, sugar and salt together in a bowl until dissolved. Turn the rice out onto a big flat plate (preferably wooden). While the rice is still hot pour the vinegar solution over the rice and mix the rice and vinegar together in a slicing action with the aid of a wooden spoon. Don’t stir. You must do it quickly preferably fanning the rice with the fan. This is much easier if you have a helper. Allow to cool on the plate and cover with kitchen paper or a tea towel. (It will soak up the liquid as it cools.)

Foolproof Food

Crab Apple or Bramley Apple Jelly

Apples are very plentiful this autumn – a delicious way to use up the windfalls.
Makes 2.7-3kg (6-7 lb)

2.7kg (6 lb) crab apples or wind fall cooking apples
2.7L (43pints) water
2 unwaxed lemons

Wash the apples and cut into quarters, do not remove either peel or core. Windfalls may be used, but make sure to cut out the bruised parts. Put the apples into a large saucepan with the water and the thinly pared rind of the lemons, cook until reduced to a pulp, approx. 2 hour.

Turn the pulp into a jelly bag* and allow to drip until all the juice has been extracted - usually overnight. Measure the juice into a preserving pan and allow 450g (1lb) sugar to each 600ml (1pint) of juice. Warm the sugar in a low oven.

Squeeze the lemons, strain the juice and add to the preserving pan. Bring to the boil and add the warm sugar. Stir over a gentle heat until the sugar is dissolved. Increase the heat and boil rapidly without stirring for about 8-10 minutes. Skim, test and pot immediately.
Flavour with sweet geranium, mint or cloves as required. 

Hot Tips

Apology – I neglected to mention the full title of the Lebanese Cookbook in my article of 30th September – it is The Lebanese Cookbook by Hussien Dekmak, published by Kyle Cathie.

Irish Seedsavers Association (ISSA) will hold an Apple Tasting on Sunday 15th October 12 noon – 5pm at Capparoe, Scariff, Co Clare
Over 100 varieties of rare, native apples are grown by Seed Savers. At this time of year the apples are harvested and in peak condition. Seed Savers invite you to join them tomorrow and take part in a tasting and trial and give your opinion on the apples. Guided tours of the heritage gardens and orchards will be taking place. If you have any windfall/damaged apples bring them with you and with their state of the art apple press, they can turn them into the best apple juice you have ever tasted!
No booking necessary, cost €5. Tel 061-921866  

Pig in a Day Course at Ballymaloe Cookery School on Wednesday 18th October.
Philip Dennhardt a brilliant young butcher from Stuttgart will show how to butcher and cure one of our own free range pigs from nose to tail – dry and wet cured bacon, pancetta, ham, homemade sausages, salami, chorizo, brawn, pate de campagne …. Tel 021-4646785 

Farmleigh House, Catstlknock, Dublin 15 – Check out their impressive foodie line-up for Autumn.
Enjoy lunch at new Boathouse Restaurant or coffee at the Motorhouse café – see  Tel -01 8155966 or Boathouse Tel 01-8157255

Great Taste Awards in London 
At last month’s awards Sally Barnes of Woodcock Smokery near Skibbereen, beat over 4,500 entries to win the title of Supreme Champion, Best Irish Food (sponsored by Bord Bia) and best chilled product – 
Of the 510 gold medals awarded by over 400 food experts, 116 went to Irish producers.

More news from Carmel Somers at the Good Things Café in Durrus, West Cork 
2 Day practical Kitchen Miracle programme. 
Carmel has slotted in an extra course before Christmas. The new course date is 28th & 29th October (the October bank holiday weekend).Limited places available.
Call 027 61426 or email 

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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