Although Japan is most famous for its sake, the traditional tipple has a lesser-known cousin: shochu. With a 500-year history in Japan, this spirit is brewed like sake, before going through a classic pot still. Unlike many other clear distilled spirits, shochu only undergoes one pass through the still, which means it retains many of the flavors and aromas of the main ingredient.
That main ingredient can run the gamut from rice to sugar cane, to sweet potatoes, and each variety has its unique characteristics which makes shochu an interesting spirit that pairs well with food. Sweet potato shochu is one of the oldest varieties, originating in southern Japan, and unlike barley shochu (which is usually the most common variety in the US), it has a pungent aroma that pairs well with fatty meats such as pork.
Although it doesn’t contain any residual sugars, sweet potato shochu smells sweet with caramel, dried fruit, and floral notes which also makes it pair well with desserts. It goes exceptionally well with a dark fruity chocolate, which is where I got the idea for this warming hot chocolate.
It’s a decadent elixir, with a rich, velvety texture that coats your mouth with the glorious taste of chocolate. The sweet potato shochu not only enhances the flavor of the chocolate, but it also keeps the richness of the beverage in check, making it dangerously easy to down a few mugfuls of this autumn delight.
Any dark chocolate will work here, but I used French 66% chocolate made with beans sourced from the Caribbean. The chocolate is smoky and nutty, with notes of almond, coffee, and caramelized fruit. As for the shochu, you should be able to find it labeled as either “Sweet Potato” or “Imo” in Japanese grocery stores that carry liquor, or high-end liquor shops.
Shochu Hot Chocolate
- 70 grams dark chocolate
- 1/2 cup milk
- 2 tablespoons sweet potato shochu (to taste)
- Put the chocolate and milk in a mug and microwave until the milk is steaming (but not boiling).
- Use a whisk or hand blender to emulsify the chocolate and milk.
- Add shochu to taste. I like to add about 2 tablespoons.
Marc Matsumoto is a culinary consultant and recipe repairman who shares his passion for good food through his website norecipes.com. For Marc, food is a life long journey of exploration, discovery and experimentation and he shares his escapades through his blog in the hopes that he inspires others to find their own culinary adventures. Marc’s been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today, and has made multiple appearances on NPR and the Food Network.