hirezake (hot sake with Tiger Fugu fin) 虎ふぐのひれ酒
Hirezake is a somewhat rare drink in Japan. It is often enjoyed by older men at exclusive sushi and fish cuisine restaurants, especially in the autumn and winter.
The dried fin of the fugu (pufferfish, blowfish) is steeped in hot sake for about ten minutes and served.
A hot cup of this most imaginative concoction, rich and complex in taste goes extremely well slowly sipped with delicacies of fish on a cold night, tucked away inside a warmly lit favorite Kyoto haunt.
As you might imagine, this one does have it’s detractors. Many young Japanese, people in their 20’s and 30’s have never tried hirezake. Many women don’t care for it.
However, the taste is not fishy. It is vaguely fish in flavor however the sake is heavily accented with rich earthy and nutty tones permeated with an unusual smokiness.
If you are a foodie and in Japan, seek it out. Hirezake is a must try!
I wanted to show how to make hirezake, so I went down to Nishiki Market today to look for dried fugu fin. It is still a bit early in the season for fugu, but I did find several shops that had dried tiger fugu fin. The tiger fugu fin I chose was from Shimonoseki (in Yamaguchi Prefecture on the southern end of Honshu). Shimanoseki is synonymous with fugu in Japan, the most prized fugu comes from this region.
At restaurants that serve fugu, the fins can often be seen stuck to a wall in the kitchen to dry, or at exclusive fish restaurants and drinking establishments in Gion, they are stuck to a board and placed outside to dry in the sun during the day.
The steps to making hirezake are as follows:
Obtain professionally harvested and dried fugu fin (parts of the fugu are highly toxic).
Sake, cup with cover and fugu fin
We went with a bottle of saga kobai (嵯峨紅梅), this sake is produced by a small, craft brewery in Saga, near Arashiyama, a popular sightseeing destination in a suburb of Kyoto.
For hirezake, dry Japanese sake, karakuchi (辛口) is considered far more appropriate than sweet (甘口) (amakuchi). Karakuchi is considered ‘manly’.
Gently heat the sake
Heat the sake in a cup (with a cover if possible). This is best done in boiling water. It is common now to heat sake in a microwave oven, but this is frowned upon by true believers as the sake can get far too hot, damaging the delicate flavor.
Sear the fin
Lightly sear the fin over an open flame, or ideally over charcoal.
Add the seared fin immediately and cover
Allow to steep about 10 minutes
It is popular to burn off the vaporized alcohol when uncovering the hirezake with a match. This is surely more for theatrical effect than taste, but it is part of the ritual and many Japanese do say that it does improve the flavor. Suit yourself!
Sip slowly on a cold night!