I was invited to Masu recently for a sake tasting, and after being in Japan earlier in the year, jumped at the chance. Their restaurant manager, Fumi Nakatani, has recently been the recipient of an international qualification in sake, one of the only NZ professionals to do so. I spent a couple of hours there over lunch, learning about how sake is made, trying different ones, and snacking on food from the kitchen that Nakatani had paired with different styles.

Sake is low in acidity, making it a flexible partner for food. Nakatani says sake with a slightly "ricier" flavour than others, pairs well with food with you'd normally serve rice with. Grilled meat is an obvious one, and these skewers were inspired by a similar dish at Masu. A simple combination of good chicken and spring onion, with salt and lemon, make it a great canape for drinks, especially with sake.

The other standout dish was a simple green salad, with a tangy citrus dressing. Citrus is great at the moment and the freshness and simplicity of the salad went so well with the more floral sake, just like an aromatic white wine might. I added salmon for a bit of richness in place of the avocado, but in season, both would be great.

Simple salmon salad

This makes a great addition to a shared Japanese-inspired meal, or as a light dish with sake.


Serves two

1 small red onion, thinly sliced
Juice of one lemon
100g wood-roasted salmon
2 cups salad greens (baby kale works well)
3 radishes, thinly sliced
1 Tbsp black sesame seeds
Microgreens to garnish, optional

For the dressing
Juice of one lemon
Juice of one lime
3 tbsp neutral oil, such as rice bran
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
Sea salt and freshly cracked pepper

Place the red onion in a small bowl and cover with half the lemon juice. Set aside for at least 10 minutes.

In a large bowl, combine the salmon, salad greens, radish, and sesame seeds. For the dressing whisk all ingredients together in a small jug.

Taste and adjust as necessary.

Add the onions to the salad mixture, then dress with the dressing. Gently combine and serve with microgreens as a garnish. Note: when in season, add an avocado cut into cubes.

Serve with sake.


Chicken and spring onion skewers

Photo / Doug Sherring
Photo / Doug Sherring

Makes about 12-15 small skewers

2 chicken breasts, or 4 chicken thighs, cut into about 2cm cubes
1 bunch spring onions
Juice of 2 lemons
Sea salt and pepper
Cocktail skewer sticks

Cut the spring onions into 2-3 cm strips. Thread on the skewer sticks, alternating with the chicken.

Season well with salt and pepper and fry in batches on a hot cast-iron frying pan, in a little cooking oil. Cook for about 5-6 minutes each side. Before removing from the pan squeeze over a little lemon juice. Remove from heat and season with sea salt. Serve with additional lemon wedges.