What is Mirin and How Do You Use it
Unless you are an Asian (especially Japanese) food enthusiast, chances are you are not much familiar with this Japanese condiment. However, you may be surprised to know that even though you may have not heard its name previously, you have definitely tasted it. So, if you are curious as to what this Japanese staple is and what it is used for, then read along!
What Is Mirin?
Mirin is a kind of rice wine that is used widely for cooking in Japan. The flavor profile is similar to that of sake with a characteristic umami flavor. The wine has a subtle sweetness to it and a minute amount of alcohol in it.
Like most alcoholic drinks, mirin too is made through the process of fermentation. A combination of steamed glutinous rice (mocha Gome), cultured rice (Kome Koji) and distilled alcoholic beverage called “shochu” is fermented for a period of 2 months, producing hon-mirin (true mirin). The process of fermentation is what gives the wine its natural sweetness without adding extra sugar to it. Hon-mirin has an alcohol content of 14%.
Besides hon-mirin, there are other condiments available in the market known as “mirin-style condiments”. These two are different as “mirin-style condiments” known as aji-mirin only tastes similar to hon-mirin and has an alcohol content less than 1%, making it inexpensive in comparison to hon-mirin.
Mirin has been used in many Japanese foods like the world famous miso soup as well as ramen. The teriyaki sauce is no exception either. This golden/amber colored liquid pairs well with various flavor profiles and makes them aromatic. It creates contrast and brings depth to certain dishes.
How To Use Mirin?
Before we jump to how to use mirin, we must know what it actually is used for. Mirin is known mainly to tone down or mask smells or balance flavors. It is also a world-class glazing agent.
Having said that, there now stands a million ways you could make use of a bottle of this Japanese rice wine. Most often than not, chefs use mirin while cooking seafood so the “fishy” smell does not overwhelm the diner. The alcohol in the mirin does a good job at toning it down, making the smell unnoticeable. During the cooking process, the alcohol burns itself out, so none of it is left behind.
The sugar in the mirin allows it to give a glaze to whatever it is added to. Hence, it is added to sauces or marinades. The mirin sauces taste incredible and are never lack in luster. Some even use it to stir-fry their veggies. Nonetheless, you can actually use mirin with anything and everything starting from meat to fish to tofu.
On that note, you must remember that mirin has a strong scent of its own. So, be sure to avoid using it too much – just enough to get the job done. Otherwise, it may end up dominating other flavors of your dish.
Substitutes For Mirin
The first mirin substitute is obviously sake, combined with sugar. Use the ratio of 3:1 for sake and sugar. This means that for every ¾ cup of sake, you will need to add ¼ cup of sugar.
Another thing you can do is opt for wines like vermouth, dry sherry or Marsala instead of mirin. Many also like to add sugar along with these wines. For example, in order to substitute ½ cup of mirin, you will be required to add 1 or 2 tbsp. of sugar to ½ cup of wine.
Yet another substitute for mirin would be a combination of ½ tsp. of sugar with 1 tbsp. of rice wine vinegar. This will create flavors that are quite similar or characteristic to mirin. However, this is an unpopular method and many avoid using rice wine vinegar as a substitute.
Where To Buy Mirin
As mirin is not a particularly popular condiment, often it is not found in common shops. You will need to hit the Asian supermarkets or Japanese grocery stores in order to find mirin. If neither are close by or do not stock mirin, then you will be happy to know that mirin is available on Amazon. Other than these places, you are not likely to find mirin elsewhere. However, some stores do stock mirin – just head over to the aisles for soy sauce or tamari and chances are, you will find bottles of mirin close by.
A Common Question – Is Mirin Gluten Free?
For all those avoiding gluten in their diet, there is a good news! Mirin is gluten free!
As we mentioned before, mirin is made from fermented glutinous rice, cultured rice and distilled alcoholic beverage “shochu”. Apart from the alcohol and sugar in it, mirin does not contain anything else. So, if you suffer from gluten intolerance or simply try to avoid gluten, rest assured that you can include mirin in your recipe.
Mirin Vs Sake
In the very beginning, we had mentioned that mirin has the same kind of flavor profile as sake. We even listed sake as a substitute for mirin. However, it does not change the fact that the two are actually two different things. For one, mirin has much less alcohol in it than sake. In terms of sugar content, sake is sweeter than mirin.
Another difference between them is that sake is used both for cooking and drinking. There is expensive sake available that is of very good quality, made solely for drinking. On the other hand, mirin can only be used for cooking purposes.
However, the biggest difference between them is probably the difference in timing of when they need to be added to a dish. Unlike mirin, sake is added to a dish at the very beginning of the cooking process. If added at the end, the flavors will not get time to seep in and the strong scent of sake will dominate all other aromas. Mirin, on the other hand, is usually added towards the end of the cooking process, in order to give a shine to the dish.
That brings us to the end of our article about mirin. Now that you know all the nitty gritty about this particular Japanese rice wine, you should not face any trouble in using it whenever you plan to prepare a Japanese meal. We hope you found this useful and enjoy your next cooking venture as you go!
- What Is Mirin, and How Do I Use It at Home? – Martha Stewart