Mirin: A cooking wine well worth using

  • By J.M. Hirsch Associated Press
  • Tuesday, July 24, 2012 4:44pm
  • Life

Mirin is all about getting sauced.

Because that’s where Japanese cooking wine really shines: in sauces.

But first, a misconception. The wretched American product known as “cooking wine” probably has you reluctant to try anything similar. Relax and prepare for a delicious discovery. Mirin is nothing like that.

Though once sipped similar to sake, today mirin is exclusively a cooking wine. The clear, viscous liquid has a clean, yet intensely sweet-salty flavor.

And while it packs a solid 12 to 14 percent alcohol, it’s really the sugar that counts. Mirin often is as much as 45 percent sugar.

That sugar explains why mirin works so wonderfully in marinades, glazes and sauces. It tenderizes meats, thickens sauces and creates a wonderful glaze.

And chances are you’ve tried it before, though you probably didn’t realize it. Mirin is a key ingredient in traditional teriyaki sauce and often is used as a finishing touch for Japanese soups.

Though often inaccurately called rice wine, mirin is made in part from rice. Rice, koji (think good bacteria in yogurt) and a distilled version of sake are combined and held for two months.

During this time, the koji converts the starch in the rice into sugar. A lot of it. The solids then are strained and the resulting liquid is the mirin.

Mirin is widely available in the Asian or international aisle of just about any grocer.

Some mass produced versions are made from grain alcohol and sugar, so check labels before buying.

Mirin-marinated short ribs with shiitakes and egg noodles

11/2pounds boneless short ribs, thinly sliced

1cup mirin

2cloves garlic, minced

Salt and ground black pepper

1pound wide egg noodles

2tablespoons toasted sesame oil, divided

7ounces shiitake mushrooms, stems discarded, thinly sliced

1medium yellow onion, thinly sliced

2red bell peppers, cored and thinly sliced

1tablespoon cornstarch

1/4cup water

1/4cup soy sauce

In a large bowl or zip-close plastic bag, combine the sliced short ribs, mirin, garlic, 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

When ready to cook, bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add the egg noodles and cook according to package directions. Drain and set aside.

In a large skillet over medium-high, heat 1 tablespoon of the sesame oil. Remove the steak from the marinade (reserving the marinade) and add to the skillet. Cook until the meat is half cooked, about 5 minutes.

Transfer the meat to a plate and set aside. Return the skillet to the heat and add the mushrooms, onion and peppers, then saute until starting to brown.

Return the meat to the skillet and add all of the reserved marinade. Bring to a simmer and cook for 4 to 5 minutes.

In a small glass, mix the cornstarch and water, then add it and the soy sauce to the skillet. Stir well and simmer for 2 minutes, or until thickened. Season with salt and pepper.

Spoon the steak and sauce over the noodles. Drizzle each serving with a bit of the remaining tablespoon of sesame oil.

Makes 4 servings. Per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 1,000 calories; 260 calories from fat (26 percent of total calories); 29 g fat (10 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 215 mg cholesterol; 118 g carbohydrate; 53 g protein; 6 g fiber; 1940 mg sodium.

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