Christmas in Japan = KFC?

The holidays is a time of year when family and friends gather around – what else – food. I grew up with roast beef (my favourite) alongside big bowls of white rice and soy sauce at the dinner table on Christmas Eve. Awkward conversations, ever-so drunken uncles and aunts, everyone’s got memories of this time of year: the good, the bad and the ugly. Whatever your story may be, eating and drinking is probably a part of it.

I’ve seen holiday dinners with pierogies, cabbage rolls, sushi and my favourite, KFC. In Japan, turkeys aren’t easy to find. Turkey legs or breasts maybe, but certainly not the whole bird. In the 1970s, Kentucky Fried Chicken found a way to market the Japanese obsession with all things American during the holidays by promoting buckets of KFC fried chicken as a Christmas treat, along with a snowy-white Christmas cake.

You can pre-order these dinners, which now include a bottle of sparkling wine. Maybe it sounds strange but maybe they were onto something; maybe they were a little ahead of the times, as hipster restaurants have sprung up in some of our favourite hipster neighbourhoods around the world serving up fried chicken and grower-Champagne. Whether you’re a Juke Chicken (YVR), Church’s Chicken or KFC fan, here are a few beverages to accompany your crispy, salty drumstick or two:

Kuheiji Eau du Desir 2015 – not quite sparkling but the way this eccentric brewery pasteurizes the sake leaves a little tingle on the palate. Delicious with a salty, not so spicy fried chicken recipe.

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Tengumai Yamahai Junmai – brewed using the powers of natural fermentation and without adding lactic acid, this sake is salty, mouth-watering  and food-perfect. Drink slightly chilled for lots of acidity and umami. An easy pick for all things fried.

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Hubert Paulet Premier Cru 2005 Rose – a grower Champagne producer who sells half their grapes to Billecart-Salmon, this elegant but nervy rose is made up of mostly Chardonnay, with a splash of Pinot Meunier. Fine bubbles with strawberries and soft herbs on the palate goes great with fried chicken knuckles at dim sum.

How to Pretend to be a Sake Connoisseur

      Now do this with sake. The clear stuff.

I often get asked “how do you taste sake?” Quite simply, you should taste sake like you taste wine, which is why I posted the video above. The colour can tell you things (age, filtering methods, style) and if there is any sediment, it might be a tad old or had some solids come back out. Getting your nose in there will tell you if it’s an aromatic style or earthier style and then tasting it while getting air in your mouth will open it up for you. As for whether or not the tiny traditional cups or wine glasses are better for sake, I think that’s a topic for another day…

However, compared to wine, sake is very insensitive to air. It’s actually the temperature that affects it the most. So whether you’re serving it or storing it, make sure that it’s done so at the right temperature. Too cold and it’ll be in shock, too warm and the acidity will be gone. Store it too warm and the aging will speed up, too cold and it’ll never mature. Unfortunately, there’s no strict rule to serving or storing sake – you have to know the sake and it’s style to know its potential.

If there’s one rule to serving sake in my opinion, it’s to not serve it too cold. Everyone’s had a glass of white wine chilled so much that glass was frosty and you couldn’t smell anything.

cold-glass-white-wineMaybe that was a good thing (especially if the wine isn’t that great!) or maybe it was hot and humid and all you wanted was a refreshing, simple glass of wine. But if you want to taste sake or wine, I mean, really taste it, it shouldn’t be too cold.

Go and slurp that sake! You have my permission. But don’t blame me for the stares in the restaurant.