Sake and mirin rice wine are widely used in Japanese cooking. Sake in particular in used in marinades to tenderise meat and fish, and to add umami notes to soups and broths. Mirin has a higher sugar content than sake, and is used to add sweetness and a glossy sheen to dishes.
You can use the drinking versions of each, just like using wine in Western cooking, though this can be expensive. In Japan, you'll often see things like Mizkan mirin-style seasoning and cooking sake used in everyday cooking. These are often seasoned with salt or have a much lower alcohol percentage. These both mean we don’t need to charge VAT, making them better value for your day-to-day dishes.
The same is true for Shao Hsing, or Shaoxing wine in Chinese cooking. This amber-coloured rice wine has a distinctive sherry-like aroma. Shaoxing wine is a key ingredient in traditional Chinese dishes like Drunken Chicken and Chairman Mao's Red Braised Pork.
What Is Cooking Wine?
A cooking wine is simply any wine you use in cooking. Wines you would normally drink tend to be of higher quality than those you cook with, but this is not a hard-and-fast rule. International cooking wines, like those from China and Japan, may also have added salt. This makes them unpalatable for drinking, but ideal for cooking. They can also be sold cheaper, as shops don't have to charge VAT.
Can Cooking Wine Go Bad?
Just as with regular wine, cooking wine can start to go vinegary if left open for too long. However, you may find you can still use that acidic component in cooking - just use smaller quantities first and test the flavour.
Japanese mirin and sake are best used sooner than your other cooking wines - not because they'll go bad, but because they lose their flavour relatively quickly once opened.
Is Cooking Wine Alcoholic?
Mostly, yes. The cooking wine available at Sous Chef ranges from 13% to 14.5% alcohol by volume. The notable exception is the Japanese mirin seasoning.