Mirin — Off the Beaten Aisle

By: J.M. Hirsch
mirin short ribs

Photo by: unknown


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. They are nothing alike.

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 adds 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.

Once you have it, what do you do with it? That’s where the fun starts:

• Mix together 1 cup of smooth peanut butter, ½ cup of mirin, 1 tablespoon soy sauce and 1 teaspoon of garlic powder for a great peanut glaze for meatballs.

• Mix a bit of mirin with your soy sauce and wasabi for a delicious sushi dunk.

• Combine equal parts mirin and apple cider for a sweet glaze for baked ham.

• Add a healthy splash during the final minutes of chicken and shrimp stir-fries. Be sure to balance the sweetness with a bit of salty soy sauce, too.

• Create a killer barbecue sauce by blending mirin, tomato paste, cumin, cinnamon, five-spice powder, garlic, salt and pepper.

• Drizzle a bit of mirin over soups just before serving. It's especially nice over chicken soup.

• Drizzle a bit of mirin, toasted sesame oil and a pinch of smoked paprika over purchased hummus. Serve with roasted carrots or pita chips.

• Pan-fry some breaded chicken, then use mirin and soy sauce to deglaze the skillet and make a pan sauce.

Mirin-Marinated Short Ribs With Shiitakes and Egg Noodles

Start to finish: 20 minutes active (plus 1 hour marinating)
Servings: 4
1½ pounds boneless short ribs, thinly sliced
1 cup mirin
2 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and ground black pepper
1 pound wide egg noodles
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil, divided
7 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stems discarded, thinly sliced
1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 red bell peppers, cored and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon cornstarch
¼ cup water
¼ cup soy sauce

In a large bowl or zip-close plastic bag, combine the sliced steak, mirin, garlic, 1 teaspoon of salt and ½ teaspoon 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 sauté until it starts 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.

J.M. Hirsch is the national food editor for The Associated Press. He is the author of the recent cookbook High Flavor, Low Labor: Reinventing Weeknight Cooking . He also blogs at jmhirsch.

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