Musashi by Aman Explores Innovative Sushi Pairing with SAKE HUNDRED’s Byakko
While sake pairs brilliantly with a surprisingly wide array of foods from around the world, the classic pairing of sushi and sake has always been a no-brainer. A pairing about as old as recorded sake history, it’s tempting to think that the potential for sushi and sake together has been explored to its absolute depths.
But Musashi by Aman, a world-renowned sushi restaurant located on the 34th floor of the pristine Hotel Aman in Tokyo, begs to differ. There, Musashi by Aman’s sommelier recently works with the restaurant’s talented sushi shokunin to match SAKE HUNDRED’s Byakko with innovative sushi dishes to push the boundaries of this classic combination.
Byakko belongs on the world’s best sake lists
“When I was envisioning the world’s greatest sake list, I knew Byakko had to be there,” Musashi’s sommelier, Ryu Fujiwara, says.
Fujiwara is a seasoned sommelier who’s served at some of the world’s greatest restaurants, including Jean-Georges Tokyo and WakuGhin in Singapore. Based on his globe-trotting experience, Fujiwara says he knew Byakko had the key ingredients of a sake to please people from all over the world.
“In offering a selection of fine sake from all over Japan, we wanted sake that was fresh in both brand and flavors, since many brands are already well-known. But to make the cut at Musashi by Aman, in addition to its freshness, a sake has to be authentic enough to be served with confidence to our prestigious overseas customers,” Fujiwara explains.
“There are many sake that have a unique character, but Byakko’s elegant flavors truly have the power to please anyone’s palate,” he concludes, perhaps unknowingly hitting on the whole reason for Byakko’s creation.
“A sake with a strong ginjo aroma may have a lot of impacts, but it’s not necessarily suitable for meals,” Fujiwara continues. “Byakko has an aroma that isn’t too assertive, it’s not too sweet, and it has a pleasing, lingering aftertaste that makes it so elegant.”
A comfortable fit for sushi rice
“Byakko is characterized by a white lily-like aroma and a honeyed sweetness, with a slight hardness that comes on later. The Dewasansan sake rice from Yamagata Prefecture [used to make it] also features its own hardness, and is grown in cooler regions; these characteristics show through in Byakko’s flavors,” Fujiwara says.
“Here at Musashi, we use Hitomebore sushi rice grown by our own sushi master in Yamanashi Prefecture. This rice is special in that you can really feel the contours of the individual grains, which melds perfectly with Byakko’s textural elements.”
You can’t talk about the sushi at Musashi by Aman without mentioning master-owner Hiroyuki Musashi’s dedication to rice. After entering the world of sushi at the age of 18, Musashi has spent his career of 37 years digging into what sushi is all about. He’s come to the conclusion that the most important ingredient in sushi is rice, and in order to serve sushi that satisfies to the best possible degree, he committed to growing his own rice starting in 2019.
“I felt that if I depended on rice farmers, it wouldn’t be the perfect rice that I wanted," Musashi says. “Now we plant our own seedlings and grow our own rice on farmland in Hokuto City, Yamanashi, which is fed by spring water from the Southern Alps of Mount Kaikomagatake."
The rice grown on this land is pesticide-free and Musashi himself visits the land about every other week to pick weeds by hand. In the summer months, Musashi and crew even leave Tokyo in the middle of the night to finish the fieldwork before the sun rises.
“We don’t cook the rice hard,” Musashi explains. “But we carefully polish it and carefully apply salt and vinegar in such a way that you can feel every contour.”
Exploring one sake’s many faces with sushi
While many pairing meals would match one drink to one dish, this is difficult in the world of high-end sushi, where any given plate is a single, bite-sized morsel. But sommelier Fujiwara works around this with unique ideas.
A sake is paired with every several dishes, Fujiwara explains, and each sushi piece is carefully considered to bring out differing complementary and contrasting elements in the sake, such that the many facets of one glass of sake are explored through the differing lenses of each sushi plate.
In Fujiwara’s accumulated years of sake wisdom, he sees what would normally be considered a handicap – the inability to pair one glass with one dish – as a strength to be explored. And through that exploration, Fujiwara reveals unplumbed depths to the classic sushi and sake pair.
Three Edo-mae sushi pairings made possible by Byakko
By way of example, Fujiwara offers up three exclusive pairings available only at Musashi by Amano and featuring Byakko. Each piece is a step on a journey exploring this intriguing pair.
Byakko’s elegant honeyed flavors are a perfect match for this Aichi prawn, slowly boiled to bring out the crustacean’s natural sweetness.
Lesser sushi restaurants would boil the prawn and serve it immediately, but Musashi by Aman instead opts for a more traditional approach called “yude-oki” which sees an item boiled and then left to sit for half a day, encouraging chemical changes in the prawn that bring sweetness forward and subdue bitter flavors.
“We’re starting with a typical pairing,” Fujiwara says, “but whether boiled or raw, the sweetness of the prawn is a great fit for Byakko.”
The second leg of the journey pairs Byakko with kohada from Kumamoto Prefecture. Kohada is a white fish with medium fat content. Served immediately after being vinegared, its flavors can be too salty and acidic. Musashi lets the kohada sit overnight for these flavors to mellow.
The fish is marinated with a pinch of salt right after cutting, but this marination process can take anywhere from 14 minutes to 25 minutes depending on the fat content. How long any given piece will require is difficult to determine – with Musashi himself thanking only his 37 years of experience for giving him an instinctive barometer for the process.
Normally, the acidity and aroma of the kohada would call for wine, but here Byakko also shines. Its elegant ginjo aroma and tartness pair exquisitely with this delicate slice of fish. Meanwhile, Byakko’s flavors help to mellow the salty and tart flavors of the vinegared kohada – a perfect symbiotic relationship.
Last, flatfish from Aomori Prefecture that’s been wrapped in konbu seaweed and left to rest. The fish absorbs the flavors of the konbu while the konbu itself helps lock in the fish’s own flavor characteristics. At Musashi by Amano, it’s often served alongside a vinegary sauce incorporating spring onion.
“The final pairing focuses on the umami of kelp, which is produced by different methods of kombu shaping, even within the same Edo-mae style of fish. Konbu-rested fish tends to have an iodine aroma characteristic of seaweed, so there are only a limited number of wines that can be paired with it. But Byakko, with its subtle and gentle flavor, can be a perfect match," says Fujihara.
Each of these dishes explores different nuances of Byakko’s flavors and the way they interplay with the fish being served. Prawn brings a sweetness that complements, while kohada reflects the years of experience required for pure Edo-mae sushi, and konbu-rested flatfish plays beautifully off of Byakko’s rich umami.
Such flavor synergies require a practiced hand and, of course, the best ingredients, and Byakko and Musashi by Aman are perfectly representative of their respective bests in class.
For information, reservations, and access instructions for Musashi by Aman, visit their website below:
アマン東京 武蔵 by アマン