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Japanese Cooking Sake

Tom Inoue

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We’ve all certainly heard of wines being used in culinary recipes. But did you know that rice wine, or sake, is also an indispensable ingredient in Japanese cuisine?

In this article, we will focus on a certain type of sake made specifically for cooking, called ‘Ryori-shu’.

1. What is Cooking Sake?

Cooking sake or Ryori-shu is a special kind of sake produced primarily as a culinary ingredient. It is rendered unsuitable for drinking through the addition of salt and/or vinegar.

Ryori-shu is mainly used for the following:

  • Tenderize fish and meat
  • Mask strong odors
  • Add umami to any dish

2. Regular Sake vs. Cooking Sake vs. Mirin

Regular sake

Sake produced for drinking (regular sake) has three basic ingredients:

  • Rice
  • Koji mold
  • Water
  • Optional: Distilled Alcohol (depending on the type of sake)

It’s alcohol level is at 15-16%. Its shelf life, on average, is very short and if not stored properly, sake will oxidize quickly since it doesn’t contain preservatives. Being an alcoholic drink, sake is subjected to liquor tax in Japan.

Cooking sake (Ryori-shu)

Cooking sake is basically regular sake with additives. To fit its purpose, it has a stronger acidity, umami, and sweetness than regular sake.

Japanese law requires the addition of 2-3% salt (or as much as 0.71 oz/ 20 g per Liter) or vinegar in cooking sake to prevent it from being consumed as a beverage. This exempts it from liquor tax, making it available at a more affordable price.

Mirin

Mirin is regarded as sweet rice wine, and is mainly used for:

  • Adding subtle sweetness to food
  • Adding sheen or glaze to sautéed dishes

It is made from glutinous rice, Koji mold, and distilled spirits (instead of water). Because distilled spirits are added, large amounts of sugar and amino acids are created during its maturation. The result is a product with a high glucose content, that can run as high as 45% sugar.

With an alcohol content of 14%, pure mirin is subjected to liquor tax. However, you can find mirin-like seasoning in grocery stores that is not as expensive as regular mirin.

summary table

3. How to use Cooking Sake

3-1. As a Tenderizer of fish and meat

Cooking sake is best used to marinate red or white meat. Soaking fish and meat in cooking sake for at least 20 minutes prior to cooking will ease out its toughness and remove unpleasant “fishy” and “gamey” odors.

3-2. As a Seasoning

Adding Cooking Sake in soup stocks and sauces will add body and umami. Unlike regular sake, cooking sake imparts a bolder and more complex flavor which allows it to stand out from other ingredients such as sugar, soy sauce, and the like.

Be careful in adding cooking sake to any food that has salt, soy sauce, or miso since cooking sake is salty to begin with.

Similarly, if the recipe calls for regular sake, it is better not to use cooking sake since it might come out very salty.

3-3. Add it to just about everything

  • Cooking rice
    Add a teaspoon of cooking sake to water when cooking 3 cups of rice. This will enhance its flavor and create a full and soft texture.
  • Frying meat
    Just before frying fish or meat, add a dash of cooking sake to increase umami flavor.
  • Simmering vegetables
    Add cooking sake to simmering water with vegetables to season and to provide umami flavor. This will also prevent the vegetables from getting mushy.
  • Kneading bread
    Add to bread mixture to create a softer consistency but a thicker and more tender texture.
  • Deep frying
    Add cooking sake to the batter or on breadcrumbs to produce a crunchy and flavorful coating which will prevent oil from oxidizing quickly.

4. Health Benefits

Aside from its numerous culinary functions, cooking sake is said to has several health benefits:

  • Aids in digestion
  • Strengthens the immune system
  • Anti-aging
  • Prevents cancer
  • Enhances memory

This anti-oxidant-rich ingredient is a simple and convenient way to incorporate sake into every meal.

5. Looking for Cooking Sake

Cooking sake is available in Japanese or Asian stores, and in the international isle of groceries. If you’re faced with Japanese-only labels, look for the following characters:

ryori-shu

cookingsake

Top Brands

Since cooking sake is an indispensable ingredient in Japanese cuisine, finding a good brand is just as important. Here are our recommendations:

a. Hinode

Established in 1961, this is a trusted brand in Japan that mainly produces sake, cooking sake, and mirin. Due to their extensive exporting efforts, much of their products are available in Japanese or Asian stores worldwide.

Get yours here.

b. Mizkan

Mizkan is a famous company established in 1804. Their products are mainly vinegar, cooking sake, and ponzu (citrus-flavored soy source).

c. Kikkoman

This is another famous company which produces soy sauce, food seasoning and flavoring, mirin, cooking sake, and fish stock. Its products are also widely available in asian stores and supermarkets.

Get yours here.

Although initially produced to avoid the tax system, Ryori-shu eventually become suited for cooking thanks to its bold flavor and additives, which also serve as helpful culinary ingredients. Nowadays, you can use it as a marinade, a seasoning, or topped to just about anything to enjoy its health benefits.

Truly, sake is a versatile ingredient that not only serves a spot in our glasses but also on our plates!

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