Shaoxing Wine: The Quintessential Chinese Cooking Wine

by Theo Ponthieux

Shaoxing wine Jar

When making authentic Chinese food, there's nothing quite like Shaoxing wine. Sure, you could use dry sherry, but it will not provide the same depth of flavor to recipes as Shaoxing. This Chinese cooking wine helps enhance the taste of meat and other flavors within recipes. It's so popular in authentic Chinese cooking that it's likely used almost as often as soy sauce.

This guide on Shaoxing will help you understand why this ingredient is so popular in Chinese cooking, where to get it, how to use it, and other important details that will turn you into a Shaoxing wine expert.

Introduction to Shaoxing Wine: A Staple in Chinese Cuisine

Shaoxing is a Chinese rice wine made with glutinous rice, water, and some yeast. This combination of ingredients ferments, thanks to the yeast, to become a wine. This particular alcohol is created in large basins, where the maker will consistently stir the ingredients to help the sugar break down. Once the mixture becomes mushy, it is processed further, strained, and packed into jars so it can age/ferment.

This Chinese food pantry staple is common in many recipes, ranging from stir fries to marinades. Because it's so common to Chinese cuisine, it's common for Chinese households (or homes that enjoy Chinese food often) to always have it on hand. This is not a new alcohol; it's been recorded as being used as early as 770-476 BC. Because it's been around for so many years, it's no surprise that it is connected to many Chinese recipes.

Pagoda Shaoxing Cooking Wine

On a quest for the key to authentic Chinese cooking and flavors? Look no further. Shaoxing cooking wine is one of the oldest forms of rice wine in China, with records mentioning it as far as 2000 years back. Aside from its amber color, Shaoxing rice wine differs from clear cooking wine in its deeper, more complex taste. Mildly sweet and fragrant, you’ll love the flavor transformation of your stir-fries, dumpling fillings, and wontons, sauces, marinades, and more!

Common Allergens: Wheat. May also contain: Alcohol.

21.63 oz

The Rich History of Shaoxing Rice Wine

As mentioned, this wine has been around for many years in Asia, with records dating back to about 500 BC. Like other wines at the time, it was an important drink as it related to politics, diplomacy, and other related events. While historical records mention Shaoxing in the Spring and Autumn and the Warring States Periods, some believe this rice wine was invented even earlier (in 2050 BC). Those who believe this wine is older often connect its invention to the god of Chinese alcohol (also known as Du Kang).

Over the years, this wine was developed, shifting from an unstrained wine to one that had a sweeter, more pleasant taste. As the production methods shifted, so did the primary drinkers of Shaoxing. Beginning as a diplomatic drink, it transitioned to one consumed by scholars, specifically during socialization. After winemaking shifted to commercial production in Shaoxing, China, this drink spread throughout the country during the Qing Dynasty. No longer was this drink saved for military or diplomatic purposes; it was now available to everyone.

Shaoxing wine seller in Shanghai

Understanding Shaoxing Cooking Wine: Flavor and Uses

This cooking wine has a unique flavor that it brings to Chinese cuisine. It has a salty, fruity, bold, slightly sweet alcohol taste. Of course, the type of Shaoxing wine you purchase (quality and age) will determine the exact flavor it offers to recipes. It's also known for being quite aromatic.

As mentioned, there are quite a few uses for this cooking wine. However, it's most often used as a way to tenderize meat and enhance a recipe's flavor. It's particularly useful when making recipes that call for strong, gamey-tasting meat, as it can help balance out the taste so it's not as strong. Additionally, using Shaoxing helps cut the greasiness in recipes, so it works well with fattier meats. Some recipes you can use this wine for include Chinese braised beef/fish, wonton soup, dan dan noodles, etc. With a few ingredients, you can make stir-fry sauces, marinades, or use Shaoxing to tie recipe flavors together.

Shaoxing vs. Other Cooking Wines: What Sets It Apart

While Shaoxing is a cooking wine, it has quite a different flavor and impact on recipes than other cooking wines. Here's what makes Shaoxing such a unique ingredient compared to other cooking wine options.

Michiu (Taiwanese rice wine) - This white rice wine can be used for some of the same recipes as Shaoxing wine since this condiment helps cut out strong meat/fish flavors from dishes. However, it does not add much flavor to recipes, unlike Shaoxing.

Japanese Mirin - Similar to Shaoxing, mirin is a fermented rice wine. It provides a sweet, acidic, tart taste to recipes. Options like Morita Honjo Mirin work well for tenderizing meat and fish. You can use it in stir-fries, sauces, etc. However, it is much sweeter than Shaoxing, so it can create an overpowering flavor in recipes like braised beef.

Morita Honjo Mirin

Mirin is a sweet rice wine similar to cooking sake but with lower alcohol content. This mirin-type cooking seasoning is produced like hon-mirin (true mirin) with some salt added. It's a staple Japanese condiment that adds a sophisticated sweet flavor, glossy luster, and pleasant aroma to dishes - making it popular for teriyaki and sukiyaki as well as tempura and soba dipping sauces.

May also contain: Alcohol.

16.6 oz

Japanese Sake - Cooking sake, like Morita Cooking Sake, is a great way to add a complex flavor to dishes. It also helps cancel out strong meat/fish smells in recipes. While cooking sake is quite versatile, you can use Shaoxing for even more recipes that wouldn't work with cooking sake, like dumplings.

Morita Cooking Sake

This cooking sake is made with the same techniques that are used to brew NENOHI refined drinking sake. Its carefully selected rice creates a full-bodied fragrance that reflects five main flavors - sweet, bitter, umami, salty, and acid. This is why cooking sake is great for enhancing distinctive ingredient flavors and neutralizing the unpleasant smells of meats and fish. An unsung hero in many sauces and marinades, this cooking sake will take your cooking, Japanese or otherwise, to the next level.

16.9 oz

Cooking with Shaoxing Wine: Recipe Ideas and Tips

As mentioned, there are quite a few recipes you can use Shaoxing for, like dumplings, three-cup chicken, and pork rib stew. Don't be afraid to try this cooking wine in recipes that pair well with a briny, salty flavor. Here are some tips to help you master using Shaoxing in recipes!

  1. Always taste shaoxing before purchasing. Different brands and types of Shaoxing wine will provide different flavors to your recipes. To help you narrow down which option to purchase, it's best to taste-test the options before buying. This ingredient has a bolder flavor, so it's necessary to pick an option you like. Often, if you go to Asian grocery stores, you'll have the opportunity to taste-test the available choices. If you can't taste the wine before buying it, start with a smaller bottle size of a few brands. Once you have one you like, buy it in a larger size for cooking.

  2. Store it in a cool, dark place. You want to keep this cooking wine in a cool, dark place (similar to its conditions in the clay jars). By storing it via this method, your wine will stay good for longer. If it reaches temperatures over 75F, it will likely go bad. Keeping it in a cool, dark location means the wine will likely stay good on the shelf for about six months. You can also store it in the fridge, which extends its life.

  3. Don't use Shaoxing wine for drinking if it has salt. In the US, many stores sell Chinese cooking wine with salt in it. This helps circumvent the alcohol tax and means shops that can't sell alcohol can still provide customers with cooking wine options. Any options that have salt should not be consumed as a drink. Though, they still work well as an ingredient in recipes.

  4. Use high-quality Shaoxing wine for specific recipes. As mentioned, you don't need to use high-quality Shaoxing for all recipes. If you're creating a recipe that focuses on this cooking wine, opt for a higher-grade version. Otherwise, you can use this cooking wine at lower grades for other recipes.

Drunken chicken

Selecting the Right Shaoxing Wine for Your Dishes

Picking the right Shaoxing for your recipes is essential to creating authentic dishes. This is one product that varies in price quite a bit, with higher quality options generally sitting around $6 per bottle. There is a difference between lower quality and higher quality Shaoxing wine. Generally, the better the quality, the less of a briny taste the wine will have. Better quality Shaoxing will also be more flavorful in general.

Using a higher quality Chinese rice wine is necessary for specific dishes that focus on the wine's flavor, like Chinese drunken chicken. Many people will purchase better quality Shaoxing to specifically use for these recipes. Then, they will purchase an "everyday" Shaoxing at a lower price/quality for other recipes where the flavor of the wine is not highlighted as much.

If you're hunting for a more complex flavor in your dishes, aged Shaoxing wine is another great option. Shaoxing can be aged up to 50 years in some cases. It will usually note the amount of years the wine is aged directly on the bottle. Expect bottles that are aged for longer to have a more sophisticated taste.

The Health Aspects of Cooking with Shaoxing Rice Wine

This ingredient not only adds flavor complexity to recipes but is also considered a healthy drink/ingredient. It has quite a few essential vitamins and minerals, like vitamins B and E and zinc. Shaoxing also has 18 amino acids, including eight essential to the body. Some potential health benefits of using Shao Hsing wine include better blood circulation, improved metabolism, and appetite stimulation. These potential health benefits apply to those who use this rice wine in cooking and as a drink.

Shaoxing wine factory

Conclusion: Elevating Your Culinary Creations with Shaoxing Wine

With the versatility of Shaoxing wine, it's no wonder this ingredient is a staple in Chinese cuisine (and households!). From marinades to soups and stir-fries, this magic ingredient helps create an authentic flavor that cannot be matched. Tenderizing, enhancing flavor, and neutralizing gamey meat, what can't this wine do?

Shirakiku Bulgogi Fried Rice

Who doesn't love a delicious serving of bulgogi (Korean-marinated beef)? Now you can enjoy it combined with another tasty comfort dish - fried rice. Made with a mix of vegetables and bulgogi, this ready-to-eat fried rice offers a quick, convenient, tasty meal in minutes.

Heat it in the microwave or a pan, and it's ready to go. Don't forget to toss on some sesame seeds and sliced green onion!

Common Allergens: Milk, Eggs, Shellfish, Mollusk Shellfish, Tree Nuts.

Storage: Store in the freezer at 0°F or lower until ready to use. Then, defrost in the fridge before using.

For more information about our Frozen products and how they ship, please click here to see our FAQ section.

8.81 oz
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So, where can you find Shaoxing wine to start creating your own recipes? Bokksu Market has options like Pagoda Shaoxing Cooking Wine to help you create authentic Chinese dishes. You'll also find sauces from other East Asian locations like Japan and Korea on Bokksu Market. Snacks, instant meals, and frozen foods (like this microwaveable Shirakiku Bulgogi Fried Rice) are all available here to satisfy any Asian food cravings.

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