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JUN/JUL 2006 | COLUMNS | ECKHARDT

Saké for Your Backyard Barbecue
By Fred Eckhardt

While visiting San Francisco to celebrate the Celebrator's 18th anniversary this last February, I took advantage of the situation to search for some of the wonderful saké available in that city. Actually, I might have forgotten all about saké had I not gone to the Toronado to partake of the fine selections at its Barleywine Festival.

We emerged from the Toronado (547 Haight Street) and went across the street to Bob Cantor's wonderful Memphis Minnie’s BBQ place, the self-proclaimed home of "swine dining" (576 Haight Street), and were astonished to find a splendid saké list with great recommendations for Mr. Cantor's extensive barbecue list. While we dined on his beef brisket, which had been smoked for 18 hours, I enjoyed some great Japanese Tedorigawa Iki no Hana Ginjo (newly available in the U.S.). It’s cheap at $8 for a three-ounce chilled shot; I settled for two such to accompany Mr. Cantor’s truly classic barbecue. I remembered that in Japan this lovely beverage had cost me $100 for 750 ml and was well worth the cost.

As I dawdled over my barbecue, I had a vision of what a great thing it is to cook American with saké. It's outdoor barbecue season, so a splendid start might be to do a backyard barbecue with saké. If $100 saké is a bit much for your budget, you can cook with any good California saké: Gekkeikan (Folsom), Ozeki (Hollister), Sho Chikubai (Berkeley) and Yaegaki California Ki-Ippon (Los Angeles — Vernon), which can all be found at less than $10 for 1.5 liters in most western cities. Inexpensive sakés are better served warm than chilled, but all are great to cook with. Later we'll discuss the proper "sipping" saké to be chilled for this outdoor binge.

Let’s Talk Barbecue
After settling on what type of meat you want to barbecue, it is necessary to consider the process. I'm not even going to think about trying to match Bob Cantor's magnificent offerings. The Toronado–Memphis Minnie's combination is, by itself, well worth a trip to San Francisco. Really. And you can go sightseeing both before and after. How can you resist?

Other than smoking your meat for 18 hours, what can you do to produce good quality barbecue at home?

First, you need a dry rub. Rub this on the meat (beef, chicken, pork, ham, etc.) and let stand for a couple of hours or more before starting the grill. (Please see sidebar.)

Second, and more important, a good barbecue sauce is necessary. You can buy one at any market, but it is much more fun to make your own. I will give you my recipe, because it is really quite good. (Please see sidebar.) Please note that most barbecue sauces incorporate tomatoes, and remember that tomatoes deteriorate under heat, so your sauce shouldn't be added until the meat is at least half done. Be sure to save enough sauce to add AFTER the meat is cooked and when it is served. And your guests may want to add even more of it as the meal progresses.

Saké to Accompany This Wonderful Barbecue
Of course, there's not much sense having a saké barbecue if there's no saké to drink with it. I've not found Tedorigawa here in Portland, Ore., but there are two particularly nice, medium-priced, high-quality Japanese sakés widely available across the country: Yaegaki's imported "Mu" ("Emptiness"), a premium ginjo saké at about $35 for 750 ml; and the wonderful Wakatake Onikoroshi "Devil Killer," a super-premium Dai Ginjo at about $40. Both of these handmade gems are well worth the price.

OK, so you don't want to spend the children's inheritance on saké for the barbie. This barbecue will do just as well with some fine American "nama genshu" strength saké for company. "Nama"? That is unpasteurized fresh saké. "Genshu"? Full-strength saké at somewhere around 18.5% abv, costing about $20 for 750 ml. These sakés will not be easy to find and are most likely available only in a good Japanese grocery store. They MUST be kept refrigerated in the store, and there are only two such places in the country: SakéOne's Momokawa Nama Genshu (Forest Grove, Ore.) and (best) Yaegaki's California Ki-Ippon Arabashiri Nama Genshu (Los Angeles — Vernon), at about the same price. Either of these will make your barbecue memorable for all your guests, but they are hard to find, so you might have to settle for SakéOne's "G" in the strange black bottle, also at about $20, which is pasteurized. If you can find any of these, don't hesitate; just remember they are very high in alcohol content. Take care!

 

[RECIPE] Barbecue Sauce Mix

Dry Mix

This should be made in advance, enough for several barbecues. The zest of 2 lemons (yellow outer skin only — this is best done by using a potato peeler or hand grater). Chop thoroughly and allow the zest to dry over a two-day period. When completely dry, the result is about a tablespoon of granular lemon zest.

To the above, add the following ingredients:
3 tablespoons kosher salt
3 tablespoons brown sugar (optional)
1 tablespoon crushed black peppers
1 teaspoon onion powder (not onion salt)
2 teaspoons Hungarian paprika
1 tablespoon crushed dried red chili peppers (in an emergency, you can substitute 3/4 tablespoon ground cayenne pepper)
1 teaspoon garlic powder

Mix thoroughly and store in a tightly closed jar.

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Barbecue Sauce Mix

1/4 pound butter
3/4 cup ketchup
3/8 to 1/2 cup brown sugar (or less, according to taste)
1/4 cup saké
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard (Grey Poupon) (or 2 tablespoons, if desired)
1/4 teaspoon beef bullion, or 1/2 cube
3 tablespoons lemon juice (or 1/2 lemon)
2 teaspoons A1 Steak Sauce
2 teaspoons Tabasco sauce (or more to taste)
1 tablespoon Mexican hot sauce: "Tapatio" Salsa Picante Hot Sauce
2 teaspoons Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce
1 fat garlic clove
Optional: Add 1/8 teaspoon liquid smoke if you need that style.

In a saucepan, heat the butter over low heat until melted; then add the other ingredients in the order listed above. Slowly increase the heat until the mix is boiling, and then add the large fresh crushed garlic clove. Turn the stove off and let the mixture stand for a couple of hours while you prepare the meat.

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OTHER POSSIBILITIES WITH SAKÉ COOKING
Your favorite lamb shank recipe will be greatly improved if you just use 3 cups cooking saké, a cup of chicken or lamb stock, and water as necessary for 4 lamb foreshanks (3 to 5 pounds). Saké may be substituted in most recipes calling for white wine or pale beer, and it is especially delicious with fish.

 

Fred Eckhardt lives and works in Portland, Ore., but he often wanders the globe searching for a free loo, very important to cheapskate old farts.

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