My friend Shing-yu makes saki every winter as a treat to keep her family warm. I asked her how she makes it, and this is what she said:
Use sweet white rice. It can be bought in a Korean or Chinese store. It is not the same kind used for sushi - Shing-yu says this rice is too sticky for sushi.
The yeast can only be bought at a Chinese store. It is yeast specifically for making saki. Shing-yu buys it in a package made of clear plastic - you can see the yeast inside, which is in the form of two white balls. She said she has to pound them to use them. She said each package of two balls lasts for several batches of saki. There is Chinese writing on the package that says it's for making saki.
Measure out two cups of dry rice grains. Let them soak in water at least 4 - 6 hours, or overnight. She does it overnight. Dump most of the water out, leaving enough so you can see it through the rice grains - hardly even a layer of water covering the top of the rice. She explains that it has already soaked up much of the water it would have if you cooked it the normal way.
Next, cook the rice. I asked her how she knew when it was ready and she said she doesn't know; she uses one of those countertop rice cookers, so she just pushes a button and it tells her it's ready. So I guess that means when it's a good rice consistency, it's ready.
Dump the rice into a big bowl. You can rinse it now or just skip rinsing it. Sometimes she does and sometimes she doesn't. I guess it might make it less sticky and easier to stir in the yeast if you rinse it. Sprinkle the yeast over the rice and stir it in.
Put the rice into the container you will be storing it in and pat it down. The container you use should have a good lid. Shing-yu doesn't use plastic or metal containers - she said she uses a ceramic/China/pottery type of container. Push the rice out of the center to make a little observation hole - this is where you watch for the liquid to come out. That's the saki.
Put a lid on the container and wrap it in a towel. This is to keep it warm. Put it somewhere warm - Shing-yu says she puts it next to a floor vent, where the heater blows warm air at it.
After a couple of days pass, unwrap it and take a look to see if there is liquid. A friend of Shing-yu's reported that she saw some as soon as half a day. But Shing-yu says it's not yet good at that stage. Her explanation was that it's like a fruit; when the fruit is green, it's still a fruit, but it's not yet good to eat. After some time, it ripens and gets sweet - then it's good. Then after some more time, the fruit gets strong and ferments. These are the stages the saki will go through. She says it's good and sweet and ready to drink after about a week.
Shing-yu's family actually eats their saki, rice and all. She puts a beaten egg in a bowl, pours some boiling water over it to flash-cook it (egg-drop soup consistency), then pours in the saki with rice. She says she uses it to cook things, too. She explained how she takes a salmon, salts it up and hangs it in her garage to dry. She would smoke it, too, but she has no smoker. Then when it's good and dry, she soaks it in saki for months. She said she leaves it in the garage, soaking in saki over the winter since it stays so cold out there. Then when she cooks the salmon, she said the sweet smell is incredibly wonderful. This was her grandmother's recipe back in China.
Shing-yu brought in a package of yeast for me to see. The whole package is clear plastic, and it has red printing on it. The balls are just over an inch in size. The package is the bag style that's sealed together at the top and bottom. On the right side, there is a circle with a drawing of two cranes, some shrubbery and the sun. Across the top are five circles, each with a Chinese character in it. Across the bottom is a red band with more Chinese characters in it. The back of the bag has no printing on it.
She says to crush them, she wraps the bag in paper towels and then in cloth, then takes it out to the garage and smashes it with a hammer.
The rice bag has Korean writing across the top of it. Under that it says in English, "SWEET RICE". Under that is a large graphic bordered on the sides by rice plants or some other kind of plant graphic.
I claim no responsibility for how anyone's experiment goes - I haven't tried this myself, not being a fan of alcohol, but since several people have asked how Shing-yu makes her saki, I decided to post this for ease of sharing the information.