As I’ve delved deeper into the world of shochu, I’ve become increasingly interested in pairing shochu with foods. I first became aware of the differences when I began drinking sweet potato shochu with roasted meats and rice shochu with seafood. The shochu enhanced the food’s flavors and the oils in the foods changed the character of the shochu. Over time I’ve found that some foods pair amazingly well with shochu while others are a complete miss.
I’ve been wanting to write about this for a while, but hadn’t gotten around to it. Enter SakaMai, the Japanese gastropub devoted to amazing food and drink pairings. After having a successful sake and oyster tasting class, they approached me about a shochu and oyster pairing. I was skeptical that the raw, open water flavors of an oyster could be paired successfully with the earthy sweetness of a shochu. However, I began to make a mental list of shochus that might pair or contrast well with the briny, salty, and sometimes buttery oysters that I’d tried at various times. We got together with W&T Seafood who brought in 6 different oysters while I selected a dozen potential shochus.
The first thing I realized is that I know almost nothing about oysters. In my mind west coast oysters were smaller and east coast oysters were larger. That doesn’t even begin to touch the spectrum of the variety to be had in each species. Now I can confidently say that east coast oysters are saltier (but not necessarily larger) while west coast oysters are more buttery (but not necessarily smaller). Beyond that I’m going to need to do a lot more research.
The second thing I realized is that “pairing” a shochu with an oyster is not just a matter of finding a match (similar flavor profiles) , but also a matter of potentially finding a contrast (dissimilar flavor profiles). The fun thing about a contrast is that this is when the food and drink completely change the dining experience whereas a match simply enhances the experience. Turns out the contrasts are much more fun to discover.
And a final realization … some shochus do not go well with oysters at all. At all. You’d think a contrast might be any time you don’t have a match, but so many times the shochu completely missed the oyster or the oyster missed the shcohu (who is really to blame?). Usually the shochu is simply too strong for the oyster, completely killing the flavor rather than complimenting or contrasting. Occasionally the east coast oysters were too salty and briny for the shochu, which made those much more challenging to pair.
Stay tuned for an upcoming event or two around this delicious experiment.