Cooking wine plays a major role in Chinese cuisine, possibly coming second to soy sauce in importance. Theoritically, any wine, including wiskey, beer, distilled wine and rice wine, can be used as cooking wine, but Chinese rice wine, especially Shaoxing rice wine, is the best in the cooking world. Chinese cooking wine is used in two typical applications
- Flavor correction: Cooking wine can not only mask the strong fishy smell and the gamey taste of meat and seafood, but also enhance the final flavors.
- Cooking ingredient: Cooking wine is a key ingredient in recipes of drunken shrimp, pickled egg in rice wine, drunken chicken, chicken wing with beer, and more.
By default, cooking wine in the US market is treated with salt (1.5%) which acts as a preservative to inhibit the growth of microorganisms that produce acetic acid. By US law, cooking wine should be "Not for Sale or Consumption as Beverage Wine."
Chinese cooking wine in US groceries are all rice wine, made from fermeneted regular rice or glutinous rice, even though they may be labeled differently, such as Cooking Wine, Rice Cooking Wine, Rice Wine, Sweet/Glutinous Rice Cooking Wine, Shao HSing or Shao Shing or Shaoxing (Huadiao) (Rice) Cooking Wine, Miron, Cooking Spirit or without English name at all.
"Shao HSing", "Shao Shing" and "Shaoxing" means the same place Shaoxing in China. Correct name spelling in Chinese pinyin should be "Shaoxing" or "Shao Xing"
In general, mijiu is the generic Chinese name 米酒 for fermented rice wine. Its acual meaning is dependent on the context. It means either drinking rice wine that has alcohol range 12-50% ABV (alcohol by volume) or jiuniang (酒酿, 1.5-2.0% ABV) or laozao (醪糟) by Sichuanese which is a sweet, cotton-like fermented glutinous rice usually sold in refrigeration. Drinking mijiu made with red yeast is reddish in color and thus called huangjiu (yellow rice wine, 黄酒) interchangeably. Huangjiu, the redish mijiu, including Shaoxing wine, is perferred in East of China, while similar to Japanese sake, the clear white drinking mijiu is perferred in the other places, including Sichuan and Taiwan. In Sichuan, homemade drinking mijiu is locally called changjiu (常酒) which is drunken in warm or hot and tastes the same as Japanese sake. Changjiu used to be the main drink on home yard banquet (坝坝宴) in some places of Sichuan.
White Rice Wines
The clear white mijiu or white rice wine available in the US market majorly come from Southern China and Taiwan. It is used to mask the odor smell of meat and fish, but adds little or no extra flavor to the food.
In Taiwan, white rice wine is labeled as Michiu or rice wine, but pronounced the same as mijiu in Chinese. Michiu has two types - regular Michiu which has about 20% ABV and Michiu Tou (米酒頭), a drier version of Michiu with about 34% ABV. The brands (first row in picture) distirbuted by SSC Internatioanl earns a great reputation in oversea Chinese communities, and particularly, the products (second and third bottles) with red labels (红标) are made by the governmental Taiwan Tobacco and Liquor Corp and are absolutely well known in Taiwan.
If you are interested in US-made Michiu only, The above Linchen cooking Michiu is made in California and available in most Asian stores in variety of sizes.
White mijiu made in China and available in the United States is majorly Cantonese style mijiu as shown above. Pearl River Bridge is the most popular brand, especially for its double and triple distilled rice cooking wines (the second and third bottles on left).
Cantonese cooking traditionally uses Chinese rose wine (Mei Kueilu Chiew, 玫瑰露酒) for Cantonese-style roasting ducks and pork and making sausages which are sold at almost every large Asian supermarket in America. Chinese rose wine is a spirit distilled from fermented sorghum and infused with rose flowers, tasting like slightly sweetened vodka. It lends a very nice fragrant flavor to Hong Kong-style BBQ pork (叉烧) or char siu (char siew) in Cantonese . The most well-known rose cooking wine available in US Asian stores is the above Golden Star brand which has 54% ABV and 1.5% salt.
Sichuan-style high-heat, quick stir-frying cooking prefers to use very dry white called baijiu in Chinese (Chinese distilled spirit) instead of regular mijiu. Unfortunately, Chinese baijiu is not popularly available out of Asia. You may get one at local liquor stores in Chinatowns, such as Red Star Brand Erguodou (57% ABV) as shown above.
Sichuan paocai (pickled vegetables) normally uses baijiu to prevent mold growing on the surface of salty water brine, for which the ideal cooking wines should have no salt and no additional flavoring ingredients as well. Baijiu is the best to fit, otherwise, the following Pearl River Bridge double and triple distilled bottles are an alternative option which is available in most Asian grocery stores, but please pay attention that their caps have a golden color.
Tasting similar to Chinese white drinking mijiu, Japanese sake is a fermented rice wine. The following picture shows some popular, inexpensive sakes available in many US liquor stores. You may grab one into your kitchen cupboard for substitution of white rice cooking wine occasionally. For some recipes, however, sake (15% ABV) is not strong enough to substitute Michiu (20%, or 35% ABV).
In simple, Japanese mirin is a sweet kind of Japanese sake, with a lower alcohol (0-15% ABV) and higher sugar content. As a sweet rice wine from fermented glutinous rice similar to Chinese jiuniang, mirin is a bit tart, with a hint of acid, and is also quite sweet. It is one of the holy trio of cupboard staples in Japanese cuisine, giving a rich flavor to fish and meat dishes, making sweet sauces such as teriyaki and yakitori, or softening strong flavored ingredients.
If you're going to make a mirin substitution with Japanese sake or Chinese white mijiu, you are recommend to add a little sugar to compensate the sweetness, keeping in mind that the added suga is a bit different from the sugar in actual mirin, which is produced during the fermentation process. The closest substitute is Chinese jiuniang.
Jiuniang, Fermented Sweet Rice
Jiuniang (酒酿) is also called laozao (醪糟) and may be translated as Rice Sauce or even Rice Wine (due to its alcohol content) . It consists of a mixture of partially digested rice grains floating in a sweet saccharified liquid, with small amounts of alcohol (1.5-2%) and lactic acid (0.5%). It is made by fermenting glutinous rice with a yeast starter called jiuqu (酒曲). If the fermentation goes longer, jiuniang will eventually produce rice wine or rice vinegar.
Jiuniang is widely used for soup desserts and for flavoring in Sichuan cooking as a sweetener. The following picture shows the availability in fridge section of US grocery stores. It is the best candidate to substitute Japanese mirin equivalently.
Michiu shui is marjorly originated in Taiwan, and becoming popular in China. It is also called yuezi water or rice wine-evaporated water, a substitute for water made from boiling off rice wine. Michiu shui has about 0.35% ABV and is used to replace water for cooking everything during the postpartum time. It warms the body and improves circulation which further strengthens healing, restoration and milk production. It is also believed to prolong women's aging due to baby delivery.
To make it at home, boil two bottles of rice wine down to one bottle as michiu shui. The best substitution is Chinese jiuniang, a fermented sweet rice.
Shaoxing wine is a type of huangjiu made from fermented glutinous rice and red yeast that originates from the region of Shaoxing in Zhejiang province of China. Shaoxing wine is amber-colored and has a unique flavor, balanced by the six tastes of sweet (glucose sugar),sour (organic lactic and succinic acids), bitter (peptides and tyrosol), pungent (alcohol and aldehydes), savory (amino acids) and astringent (lactate and tyrosine)
Shaoxing wine is directly used as an alcoholic drink, as cooking wine and as Chinese herbal wine. Shaoxing wine is the most widely used cooking wine in the world. Compared to white rice wine, Shaoxing wine imparts one more layer of unique pleasant flavors to the cook. Two varieties of Shaoxing wine available in US market are Shaoxing huadiao wine and Shaoxing cooking wine.
Shaoxing Huadiao Wine
Shaoxing Huadiao (花雕酒), also known as Nuerhong (女儿红), is an aged Shaoxing Jiafan wine (one type of Shaoxing wine by adding about 10% extra rice during fermentation process). It is evolved from the Shaoxing tradition of burying Shaoxing Jiafan wine underground when a daughter was born, and digging it up for the wedding banquet when the daughter was to be married. The containers were engraved with flowers (花雕). The Shaoxing Huadiao cooking wine is a huadiao rice wine with 1.5% salt added for US market, which may not be aged as long as regular huadiao rice wine.
Shaoxing Cooking Wine
Shaoxing cooking wine is made with 30-50% Shaoxing wine and various brand-dependent seasoning ingredients, such as cloves, star anise, cassia, black cardamom, Sichuan pepper, ginger, nutmeg and salt. Shaoxing cooking wine is at the same price level as Shaoxing huadia cooking wine except some aged versions.
Shaoxing Nuerhong Cooking Wine
Shaoxing nuerhong is fully aged Shaoxing huadiao wine and thus Shaoxing nuerhong based cooking wine is the high end Shaoxing cooking wine in the US market. In the above picture, the cooking wines are tuned for meat and seafood separately to get best results. Gold Plum premium matured nuerhong cooking rice wines are the main cooking wines of many Chinese restaurants in the United States. They have all natually brewed from a very clean ingredient list of water, glutinous rice, salt, and caramel.
Advanced Shaoxing Cooking Wine
If the above cheap Shaoxing huadiao cooking wine and Shaoxing cooking wine can not adapt to the recipes, the aged shaoxing cooking wine would be the advanced options. Because those cooking wines have no salt, you are able to taste the flavors before add to your dishes, and there is no need of calculating the extra salt added by cooking wine. The left first is a general Shaoxing huangjiu and the rest are all Shaoxing huadiao rice wine from well known brands.
Shaoxing Brands to Buy
Given the competition of Shaoxing cooking wines in the US market, the bottles which still stand on the grocery shelves as shown here are all fairly good. Pagoda (塔牌) and Guyue LongShan(古岳龙山) are well known in China. Taiwan-based SSC International (良) and HK-based Lam Sheng Kee (林生记) have good reputation in Asian-American communities. Gold Plum brand which also is the best in vinegar is the only one who offers Shaoxing Nuerhong based cooking wine for meat and fish separately. As a first-time user, you are recommended to start with Advanced Shaoxing cooking wine above such that you are able to taste it wihtout bothering by salt.
Fujian Cooking Wine
Fujian cooking wine is also called Fujian Laojiu or Fukien Old Wine where Fukien is an older spelling of Fujian. With few hundred years of history, Fujian cooking wine is one type of huagjiu made by fermenting glutinous rice with red rice yeast and a white yeast of over 60 Chinese medicinal herbs. It is dark brown in color, rich in flavor, and a little bit sweeter than Shaoxing huadiao wine. Many Chinese restuarants in the United States use it as their main cooking wine.
The three-years aged Qinghong (青红) below is well known in Fujian and is made as Fujian cooking wine. It has no salt and thus you can directly taste what it is.
Huangjiu-Based Cooking Wine
These chinese cooking wines are made with 30-50% huangjiu and various brand-dependent seasoning ingredients, such as cloves, star anise, cassia, black cardamom, Sichuan pepper, ginger, nutmeg and salt. Compared with Shaoxing cooking wine, these cooking wines provides different flavors and are alternative to Shaoxing cooking wines.
Special Cooking Wine
These cooking wines are made with huangjiu, soy sauce, vinegar, chili peppers and so on. They are more like seasioning sauces instead of cooking wines. The right four bottles in the image are best for braising meats.
Black Glutinous Rice Wine
The rice wine made of black glutinous rice or jasmine glutinous rice
Western Cooking Wine
The cooking wines are made from grape wines Burgundy, Sauterne, Chablis and Sherry. These cooking wines seem able to substitute Chinese cooking wines. In reality for a cook, none of them can substitute Chinese cooking wine in Chinese cooking.
Why Use Cooking Wine
Why do you cook with wine? What does it do to the food? What does it add to the taste?
Evaporation of Unpleasant Flavors
One main purpose of using Chinese cooking wine is to mask the strong fishy or gamey smell and taste of meat and seafood through alcohol evaporation during cooking. Alcohol has a much lower boiling point temperature (173° F / 78.5° C) than water (212° F / 100° C). Once the temperature is above 78.5° C, then the alcohol evaporates quickly, which reduces the vapor partial pressures of fishy/gamey components (mainly due trimethyl amine, hexahydro pyridine and valeraldehyde) in fish and meat and thus makes these volatile components easily evaporate from food. It is particularly true in Sichuan cooking that many quick stir-frying usually spray dry rice cooking wine at the highest heat point during cooking progress, such as stir-frying gizzard with green Thai peppers.
As the name says, Chinese cooking wine is Chinese rice wine for cooking. In one side, Chinese rice wine is a product of fermented regular and glutinous rice that contains high levels of protein and amino acids. The unique fermentation process (especially of Shaoxing wine) let these nutrients add additional savory flavors to the food. In the other side, Shaoxing cooking wine has already blended expected cooking spices which can nicely impart the food flavors during cook
Bring out Flavors
In many recipes, the alcohol is an important component to achieve a desired chemical reaction in a dish. Alcohol causes many foods to release flavors that cannot be experienced without the interaction of alcohol. That is, the alcohol releases alcohol soluble flavors from foods (tomatoes, vanilla beans, and herbs are good examples) that you will never taste without it.
Animal fats (triglycerides) are partially hydrolyzed into glycerin and fatty acid after heating. The ethanol of alcohol then esterifies with fatty acid and form aromatic esters.
Alcohol can denature proteins in food partially or entirely to make the food edible (drunken shrimp) or to improve the flavor of food (such as egg preserved in rice wine, pickled egg). Alcohol can also denature proteins of microbes to prevent the growth of bacteria, fungi or other new bad microbes.
Tips of Use Cooking Wine
When to Add cooking wine
- To mask the strong fishy or gamey smell and taste of meat and seafood, preliminary treatment of ingredient should include marinating with cooking wine, salt and ginger to build the basic flavor.
- As ethanol of alcohol is very volatile, cooking wine should be added at the highest temperature point during cooking, such as spaying cooking wine into quick stir fry during cooking.
- When the flavor of cooking wine itself has to reserve in the final cook, cooking wine should be added after the main ingredients are well cooked to avoid alcohol evaporation
- For soups, cooking wine should be added when the soup is boiling to evaporate odors with the alcohol.
Cooking high protein content, such as fish paste or ground shrimp, cooking wine should be avoided because alcohol is fat soluble and thus may denature the proteins and make ingredients loose stickiness.
Any misuse or abuse of cooking wine can ruin the flavors of the final cook. Soups and light flavor dishes should not use cooking wine in general. When marinating, too much cooking wine may mask the main flavors.
When using dry cooking wine to marinate strong smell fish and lamb, marinating time cannot be too long and should wash the ingredient with clean waster in timely manner to avoid alcoholic aflavor remaining in final dish.
How much cooking wine to use is dependent on the cook. The key crieria is that the cooking wine has enough time to burn off its alcohol such that the alcoholic taste does not remain in the final dish if it is not expected. See the alcohol burn off chart to determine the amount of cooking wine.
Chinese cooking wine can be used interchangably, but should not be substituted with grape wine. Otherwise, the taste may be completely different.
Alcohol Burn Off Chart
Alcohol can be found as an ingredient in many recipes. It can be added as an ingredient to add specific flavors or it can be part of an ingredient, such as extracts. Many cookbooks and cooks tell the consumer that the “alcohol will have burned of," however the process is more complicated than this simple statement implies. Alcohol does boil at a lower temperature than water - 86 degrees centigrade vs. 100 degrees C. for water, though one may have to boil a beer for 30 minutes to get it down to the NA or nonalcoholic category, which by law means it contains less than .5 percent alcohol.
Even if the alcohol in food is likely to be cooked off, for some people having just a tiny bit of alcohol or the taste of alcohol may be enough to act as a powerful cue. Similar to blowing smoke at a former smoker, using alcohol in cooking should be carefully thought out and guests should be informed as it could do a great disservice to arecovering alcoholic.
The following table of alcohol remaining after food preparation is from USDA Table of Nutrient Retention Factors, Dec 2007.
Important:The fact that some of the alcohol remains could be of significant concern to recovering alcoholics, parents, and others who have ethical or religious reasons for avoiding alcohol.