If you’ve spent any time wandering around a Japanese grocery store or Asian grocery store you’ve probably seen mirin. You may have found yourself asking, “What is mirin?”. The short answer is that mirin is a Japanese cooking wine that is used in many Japanese recipes. Like sake, mirin is also made of rice, but has a much lower alcohol content and a higher sugar content which gives it a sweet taste.
Mirin and rice vinegar often get confused because they’re similar in appearance and ingredients. However, the two are very different. Mirin is a rice wine made for cooking and rice vinegar is a type of vinegar made using fermented rice. The key differentiator between the two is the level of acidity. Mirin is sweet and has that boozy alcohol taste. Rice vinegar is sweet but has a tartness that mirin does not. The two ideally should not be substituted for each other, because they’re flavor profiles are different and your resulting dish will disappointingly not taste the same.
How is mirin commonly used? It’s frequently used in dishes that have saltier sauces with soy sauce or tamari bases, because the sweet flavor contrasts well with the salty flavor of the sauce. Think teriyaki sauce. The high sugar content in mirin helps to tenderize meat and add a glossy finish to sauces, making it a great addition to marinades.
Beyond marinades, mirin has many other great uses. We’ve listed a few of them here:
- Steam foods with mirin
Use dashi or your stock of choice (veggie, chicken, fish, etc) and add a splash of mirin to make the steaming liquid. Or get a little fancier by jazzing it up with a squeeze of lime, a few slices of fresh chopped ginger, and a bit of soy sauce. You can use this delicious base to steam fish, veggies, and meats.
- Make grilled fish with mirin-boshi
A traditional Japanese fish dish is mackerel that is grilled and topped with mirin-boshi, a sauce made of soy sauce, mirin, and a little sugar. This simple marinade will work well with any fish, not just mackerel. Just make sure to marinade whatever fish you choose for at least 20 min before cooking. If you don’t have a grill at home, you can even use a broiler to cook the fish.
- Finish steaks with sake-mirin butter
Toast garlic in oil until evenly browned and fragrant. Add 1 parts mirin to 2 parts sake (in tablespoons). Then add 2 tablespoons of butter for every tablespoon of sake. Cook your steaks to preference and spoon your sake-mirin butter sauce over the steaks to finish.
- Make sukiyaki, a simmered stew
Sukiyaki is a perfect wintertime dish that warms the soul and spirit. Nothing brings people together like crowding around a simmering pot of stew. You’ll also love it because it’s a one pot meal, which means easier prep and clean up. Just grab some thinly sliced cuts of meat, noodles, cut veggies and mushrooms, and let them cook in a shallow pot of dashi and sukiyaki sauce (mirin, sake, sugar, and soy sauce).
- Stir fry up some udon
Stir fry the meat of your choice (chicken, ground pork, beef, etc). Then add in thinly sliced vegetables like cabbage, carrots, and onions. Next, toss in some frozen udon noodles with a noodle sauce of soy sauce, oyster sauce, mirin, brown sugar, and rice wine vinegar. Voila! You’ve got an easy and delicious meal.
You might be wondering where you can find quality mirin. Bokksu Market lets you order groceries online from the comfort of your home. You’ll find all the essential Japanese cooking ingredients you need from snacks to sauces and spices and even some cookware. If you’re looking for a great versatile mirin to add to your pantry try Manjo Aji-Mirin Cooking Wine. It has a lower alcohol content than your average mirin while retaining the sweet and umami rich flavors. Try using it in some of the dishes we detailed above.
Once you start using mirin, it will quickly become a cooking staple in your household to round off a dish and give it a boost of complexity. So what are you waiting for? Grab a bottle and start cooking up some delicious food.
By Melanie Totenberg