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Japanese Sauces on a Shelf

What is Mirin?

Mirin is a sweet cooking wine that can be found in many Japanese dishes. It is a traditional seasoning that many people in western cultures are unaware of. Mirin is slightly thick with an opaque, golden color, and can be used for glazing or to season a dish by adding a slight sweetness to it. The seasoning can also help reduce the fishy smell of seafood, and many believe that using it will help with better absorption of flavours. Having a bottle at home will truly elevate your cooking experience!

Many people may be confused about the difference between sake and mirin. Sake has higher alcohol and lower sugar content. It is usually added earlier in the cooking process to evaporate the alcohol. Mirin has a lower alcohol and higher sugar content. The alcohol content can range from 0% to 14% and it is not to be confused with rice vinegar which is significantly more acidic.

A Bowl of Rice

How is Mirin Seasoning Made?

The Japanese seasoning is made by combining glutinous rice and shochu, a type of alcohol similar to vodka. The rice is then fermented for a few months. By fermenting the rice, a bacterial culture called Koji is created and is often used in cooking. Koji breaks down enzymes and proteins in the grains of rice resulting in left over amino acids and complex sugars that we now know as mirin. The Japanese seasoning can sometimes be made with sake (which is made of mostly rice) instead of shochu (which can be made of ingredients such as sweet potato, barley, corn, pumpkin, etc.).

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Types of Japanese Mirin

Mirin Japanese seasoning can be roughly categorized into two types: hon-mirin and aji-mirin. Hon-mirin is a Japanese term that translates to ‘true mirin’ and is considered as the most authentic and pure form. It contains no added sugar or salt and a higher amount of alcohol content. It is more expensive than and is usually harder to buy at the market. Aji-mirin roughly translates to ‘mirin-like taste’ and is a condiment made to taste like the pure form. It has a lower amount of alcohol content (sometimes none at all) and contains added ingredients such as corn syrup, sugar, and salt. It is highly recommended that you use hon-mirin instead of aji-mirin if you can obtain it from your local grocery store.

Mirin Japanese seasoning on a wooden table

Buying and Storing Mirin

The ingredient can be bought at your local Asian grocery store that carries Japanese products. To name a few in Edmonton, T&T, Lucky 97, and H-Mart are some markets that you can go to. If you do not have an Asian grocery store nearby, some lucky individuals may be able to find it in the Asian section of grocery stores such as Save-on-Foods, Superstore, or Sobeys. You may be also able to purchase the Japanese seasoning online on websites such as Amazon, Natura Market, and Umami Shop.

If you decide to cook with it, keep in mind to store it in a cool place. It will keep well for up to 3 months.

Bottle of Mirin Japanese Seasoning on Stovetop

Cooking with Mirin Japanese Seasoning

Many Japanese dishes uses the seasoning because it adds a deeper depth of flavor and luster to the food (think teriyaki sauce). It also helps with tenderizing ingredients and is great for salad dressings and stir-fried or braised dishes (believe it or not, there are even some Korean dishes that incorporate this condiment).

Some of you may say that you cannot get the ingredient because of where you live or you cannot have alcohol due to dietary restrictions. Fear not: you can make a substitution to replace the real thing. Although the taste may not be exactly the same, it is better to add your own version of the ingredient instead of completely omitting it. If you can have alcohol in your cooking, mix sake and sugar together at a 3:1 ratio respectively. If you cannot have alcohol, use water and sugar at a 3:1 ratio. Bon Appetit also suggests using dry sherry or sweet marsala wine with some sugar if you are really in a crunch.

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Basics of a Japanese Kitchen

Recently GaijinPot, a popular hub for many expats living in Japan, has written a great article on the basic necessities of a Japanese kitchen. Every country has common ingredients used in their cooking and Japan is no exception. These ingredients include soy sauce, mirin, cooking sake, and sugar. What makes these seasonings unique is the perfectly melded flavours between sweet and savoury. Soy sauce provides saltiness. Mirin and sugar balances out the saltiness while repelling any unpleasant odors that may come from meat or fish. As GaijinPot states, “if you have these four things, they open up an entire world of Japanese cooking” and we agree!

With these four ingredients, you can make anything from glazes, soups, and stir-fries. GaijinPot recommends using mirin for dishes such as for gyudon (beef rice bowl), beef udon (noodle soup), and yakisoba (stir-fried noodles with any toppings you wish to add). They also explain different methods of cooking that includes simmering, steaming, and deep-frying.

cutting ingredients

Speaking of cooking, did you know that there are various cuts you can use when preparing ingredients? The ‘rangiri’ cut roughly translates to random cut, and is good for braised dishes. The ‘hangetsu giri’ is a half-moon cut that can be used to cook vegetables quickly and evenly in soups. The ‘sogigiri’ is a diagonal cut that is used to get even slices of thickness for mushrooms, napa cabbage, and sometimes meat. Very interesting if you would like to know more about Japanese cuisine!

If you’re looking to purchase some kitchen appliances, a rice cooker are a must-have for Japanese cooking! While a rice cooker obviously cooks rice, you can also create other things such as congee, stews, and bread. Another appliance we recommend purchasing is a bamboo steamer. This is cost efficient way to enhance your kitchen aesthetic while looking like a pro cook!

To read more about the necessities of a Japanese Kitchen, please visit:

Easy Recipes

There are some great resources out there if you wish to find out more about the Japanese seasoning such as Bon Appetit and Just One Cookbook. Food and Wine Magazine also offers some great sauce recipes that include mirin. Here are some below that are particularly addicting:

miso-yaki rice ball

Mirin-Soy Sauce

One recipe that you can easily make is ‘Mirin-Soy Sauce.’ If you’ve ever had an Unagi-don (eel Japanese rice bowl), then you may be familiar with the sweet and savory sauce that takes the dish to a whole other level. The best part about this sauce is that you only need three ingredients!

Start off with half a cup of soy sauce, half a cup of mirin, and a quarter cup of sugar. Add all ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat. Stirring occasionally, reduce the mixture until there is about three-fourths of a cup left. Then, take it off the heat and let it cool for 15 minutes. And there you have it! This sauce can be stored in the fridge for up to 2 weeks and can be served with rice or noodles.

Misoyaki Sauce

The term ‘misoyaki’ literally translates to miso-grilled in Japanese. This sauce is quite popular, and many high-end Japanese restaurants have some sort of version of it. It is usually served with lighter grilled fishes such as halibut, cod, or tuna. That being said, this sauce is great as a dip, a salad dressing, or as a marinade. Best of all it only takes 15 minutes to make!

Start off with 3 tablespoons of mirin, a quarter cup of sake, half a cup of white miso, and a quarter cup of sugar. Combine the mirin and sake in a saucepan and heat for a couple of minutes. Then, add the rest of the ingredients and stir to dissolve the sugar. Once slightly thickened, turn off the heat and cool the sauce completely. This sauce can be stored for up to 2 weeks in the fridge.

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