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Mirin - Japan's Secret Ingredients - September 2006 Newsletter


Looking to sweeten up your life? How about your cooking? A Japanese staple, mirin is a syrupy, amber colored rice wine derived from the combination of shochu (a distilled spirit), glutinous rice, and koji (a yeast-like culture). Ingredients are brewed together and compressed, then filtered. This process gives Mirin a mildly sweet, alcoholic flavor and a glossy sheen. Along with traditional soy sauce and dashi, it is known as one of the three fundamental flavors of ancient Japan. Mirin is distinct from its counterparts because of its sweetness, which acts as a balance to their more savory flavors.

Mirin is a versatile ingredient with many uses. Its subtle sweetness and syrupy consistency make it the perfect addition to many sauces, glazes, and marinades, including three Japanese staples: yakitori, teriyaki, and tempura dipping sauce. Beyond sauces, it is also a common flavoring in broths and desserts. It is used to season a variety of noodle and simmered dishes, including stir-fries and pot meals, and is sometimes included in sushi rice. Because mirin tends to have a firming effect, it works well with tofu. It can also tone down the overly “fishy” flavor of some seafood, like salmon.

Although it is used primarily for cooking, traditional mirin (hon mirin) has a 13-14% alcohol content, and is occasionally drunk as a liqueur. Some Japanese use Mirin to make a special medicinal tonic in the wintertime called “O-toso.” During the 4-5 day period of New Years, it can be served spiced with peppers as a ceremonial drink. 

When cooking with mirin, there are a couple rules to be aware of. First, this rice wine has a strong flavor, so a little goes a long way. Second, be careful not to add mirin too early in the cooking process, to avoid burning. Wait to add it near the end of your preparation. When storing Mirin, there is no need to refrigerate, just keep it in a cool, dry environment. Don’t worry if you see some white residue around the cap after it has been opened; this is just the alcohol evaporating. Mirin lasts several months, but flavor deteriorates, and mold can form if kept too long.

Ready to give mirin a try? You can find Kikkoman Aji-Mirin Rice Wine in our Grocery section. After you have had a taste of mirin, come back and try other Asian sauces. Our inventory includes soy sauce, chili-oil, and black bean garlic sauce, as well as fish sauce (featured in our July newsletter). We also carry all the cookware you’ll need to prepare your Japanese dishes, and the tableware to serve it on!

For a classic Japanese sauce using mirin, try our yakitori recipe below.

Yakitori Sauce

4 tbsp. sake
5 tbsp. shoyu
1 tbsp. mirin
1 tbsp. caster (superfine) sugar

Mix together all ingredients in a small pan. Bring to a boil, and reduce heat to simmer for 10 minutes, or until thick. Can be used as a marinade or dipping sauce.


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