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Cooking Sake: How to Use it in your Recipes

by Joost Nusselder | Updated:  October 19, 2022

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Alcohol is used in many different ways in Japanese cooking, most commonly in the form of sake (酒, さけ) or mirin (みりん).

Sukiyaki and teriyaki chicken are just two of the dishes that are commonly made with these ingredients.

Sake is Japan’s national drink, but cooking sake is different – it’s lower in alcohol and has a higher acidity.

This makes it the perfect choice for deglazing a pan or adding depth of flavor to a dish.

Many recipes call for a splash of cooking sake in order to bring out the flavors of the dish, and it is also used as a marinade for meat and fish.

Cooking Sake: How to Use it in your Recipes

Cooking sake is an alcoholic beverage made from fermented rice. It is also known as rice wine and has an alcohol content of around 14%, which makes it ideal for cooking. Sake is used as an ingredient in many different Japanese dishes and can be used in place of mirin or wine to flavor food.

In this article, you’ll learn about cooking sake, how it’s made, how it’s used, and why it’s different from drinking sake and mirin.

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What is cooking sake?

Cooking sake, known as ryorishu (かくし味 料理酒) in Japanese, is a type of rice wine that’s used exclusively for cooking, not recreational drinking.

It is pronounced sah-keh and it’s popular in both Asian and Western countries.

Cooking sake is a clear liquid with a slightly sweet taste and no residual aroma. It is made from fermented rice, and has a high alcohol content (usually up to 14%).

It’s used in a variety of Japanese dishes to add depth of flavor and is especially common in simmered dishes (such as stews and braises).

What makes this drink interesting is that although it is frequently referred to as Japanese rice wine, it is really manufactured using a brewing process akin to that of beer.

Unlike making grape wine, sake is brewed. So, the starch from the rice is transformed into sugars, which yeast then ferments into alcohol.

Therefore, because it’s brewed, sake isn’t a true rice wine but it’s coni

What does cooking sake mean?

The word sake means Japanese rice wine. Ryorishu is actually the Japanese word for cooking sake.

This term can be used to refer to both the alcoholic beverage people drink at Izakayas and cooking sake.

However, when used in relation to cooking, it refers to a lower-grade version of drinking sake that has a higher acidity.

How is cooking sake made?

Cooking sake is made from rice, koji (a type of mold), and water.

The rice is first milled to remove the bran, then steamed. After that, koji is added to the rice, and the mixture is left to ferment.

Once fermentation is complete, the mixture is pressed to extract the liquid, which is then bottled and sold as cooking sake.

It’s important to note that not all cooking sake is created equal. Some brands use cheaper ingredients and are mass-produced, while others use higher-quality rice and a more traditional brewing process.

As a result, the flavor of cooking sake can vary widely from brand to brand.

What does cooking sake taste like?

Cooking sake is fairly acidic and has a strong, pungent flavor. The flavor is best described as very salty and very sweet with a hint of that fermented rice taste.

It’s not meant to be drunk on its own, but rather used to add flavor to dishes. When added to food, it will often take on the flavors of the dish itself.

The alcohol content in cooking sake evaporates quickly when heated, so it won’t make your food taste alcoholic.

How do you cook with cooking sake?

Cooking sake can be used in a variety of different ways.

It’s commonly used as a deglazing agent (to remove burnt bits from a pan) or to add depth of flavor to a dish. It’s also often used as a marinade for meat and fish.

Cooking sake can be added to the following:

  • marinades for meat, fish, and seafood (yakitori grilling)
  • soups
  • stews and simmered foods
  • rice dishes
  • noodle dishes
  • stir-fries
  • sauces
  • steamed foods
  • baked goods
  • brine

If a recipe calls for sake or mirin, cooking sake can usually be used as a substitute.

When cooking with cooking sake, it’s important to keep in mind that a little goes a long way. It’s very easy to overcook with sake, as too much can make a dish taste overly salty or sour.

Start by adding a small amount (usually no more than a tablespoon), then taste and adjust as needed.

What happens when you cook sake?

When you cook the sake, the alcohol evaporates. So, if you’re worried about the alcohol content, don’t be.

The heat from cooking also helps to bring out certain flavors in the food, especially if you’re cooking meat.

Also, keep in mind that cooking sake contains a lower alcohol content, but the flavor is actually more intense!

What are the benefits of cooking with sake?

Using cooking sake in your recipes has numerous advantages besides improving the flavor.

  • adds umami and mildly sweet flavor to dishes like soups, stocks, stews, sauces, and marinades.
  • removes the odors of meat and seafood, especially fish.
  • tenderizes meat because it adds more moisture and so the meat doesn’t dry out during the cooking process.
  • adds the same type of flavor as grape wine, sherry, or mirin (but less sweet).
  • it can intensify food’s flavors.
  • cooking sake is healthy and full of antioxidants.

Popular pairings

Here are the dishes that taste best with some cooking sake added to them:

  • sukiyaki
  • teriyaki chicken
  • teriyaki chicken wings with sake marinade
  • sake pound cake
  • sake noodles (udon, ramen, yakisoba)
  • meat and vegetable stir-fry
  • sake kasu marinated chicken
  • fish cooked with sake sauce
  • sake steamed clams
  • rice
  • sake rice beef
  • sake salmon
  • mapo eggplant mabo nasu
  • ramen chashu pork
  • oyakodon

Find more amazing recipes that have sake as a key ingredient here

Origin of cooking sake

Sake has an old history of about 2500 years and originated in China.

But this drink has been consumed by Japanese citizens for a very long time, and then it started to get used for cooking.

Its lengthy use in Japanese history can be attributed to the fact that it has long been recognized for its taste qualities and health advantages, in addition to being a source of relaxation and enjoyment.

The existence of cooking sake has an intriguing justification.

In reality, the Japanese government’s introduction of tax bans on alcohol-containing goods is the only reason cooking sake is used as an ingredient in Japanese cuisine.

By incorporating additional components like salt and vinegar for the purpose of product classification, cooking sake was created to avoid paying alcohol tax.

Therefore cooking sake’s history isn’t as old. It wasn’t invented until the 1870s.

When sake was first used in cooking during the Edo period, things were very different from the early years of Japan.

Since home cooks and chefs were always looking for new ways to tenderize meat and add new flavors to dishes, it was to be expected that cooking sake was invented.

This marked the beginning of cooking sake in Japan during the Meiji era, when it changed due to the tax system.

Even though the intention was to avoid paying taxes, cooking sake was created with care so that it would be of high quality.

The goal was to make a product that would taste good and be healthy, in addition to being tax-free.

People would probably drink the cooking sake at that time because it was good quality, and that’s how it started to be used in cooking.

Plus, it would’ve been cheaper than drinking sake and would’ve appealed to the general population.

Since cooking sake is only 147 years old, it is not particularly old compared to other Japanese ingredients like soy sauce (which is over 2,000 years old).

Cooking sake vs drinking sake

Cooking and drinking sake are two different types of Japanese rice wine.

Drinking sake is meant to be enjoyed on its own, while cooking sake is used exclusively for cooking.

There’s no rule against using drinking sake for cooking, so, technically, you could use either one.

However, it’s not recommended to use drinking sake in cooking because it’s expensive and the flavor is too intense sometimes.

Drinking sake is served at bars, and Japanese pubs called izakaya. It’s made from rice that has been polished to remove the bran, then fermented with koji and water.

The main difference between the two is that cooking sake has a lower alcohol content, it is more concentrated, and sometimes additional ingredients like salt are added to it.

Drinking sake comes in many varieties, with many brands to choose from.

In contrast, cooking sake is a much simpler product, and there are only a handful of brands that produce it.

While cooking sake can be used as a substitute for drinking sake in some recipes, it’s not recommended to drink cooking sake on its own, as it is very strong and not meant to be consumed that way.

What’s the difference between cooking sake and mirin?

Both cooking sake and mirin are used in many Japanese recipes. However, there are some key differences between the two.

Sake has a higher alcohol content and lower sugar content compared to mirin.

Mirin is sweeter and often used in dishes that require a little sweetness, while sake is more savory and works well in dishes where you want the alcohol to cook off.

Sake is also more potent, so you don’t need to use as much of it as you would mirin.

Is cooking sake the same as rice wine?

Technically, no. Rice wine is a broad category that includes many different types of alcoholic beverages made from rice.

However, in the West, the term “rice wine” is often used interchangeably with “sake.” The term nihonshu is also another word for rice wine.

But overall, sake is considered a type of rice wine even though it’s fermented and brewed meanwhile, wine is just fermented.

What is the difference between sake and rice vinegar?

Sake is an alcoholic beverage made from fermented rice, while rice vinegar is made from fermented rice that has been allowed to turn into acetic acid.

Rice vinegar is used as a condiment or dressing, while sake is used as a drink or in cooking.

Sake has a higher alcohol content than rice vinegar.

Is sake the same as Shaoxing wine?

No, Shaoxing wine is a type of Chinese rice wine. It’s made from fermented rice and has a similar amber color to sake.

Shaoxing wine is often used in Chinese cooking, while sake is more commonly used in Japanese dishes. Shaoxing wine is also a bit sweeter than sake.

What to substitute for cooking sake?

There’s no harm in using drinking sake for cooking – it’s actually a great way to get rid of any unfinished bottles you may have lying around.

However, if you want to use a substitute, there are some excellent ones to try.

The most common substitute for cooking sake is called mirin. It’s a similar rice wine, but it’s much sweeter than sake and has a lower alcohol content.

Another option is to use dry sherry, white wine, or red wine. These will all add different flavors to your dish, so be sure to choose one that will complement the other ingredients.

Chinese rice wine or Shaoxing wine is another good substitute, although it is not as widely available as mirin or sake.

If you’re looking for a non-alcoholic option, you can use rice vinegar or white vinegar.

These will add a similar acidity to your dish but won’t have the same flavor profile as sake.

Best cooking sake to buy

There are many brands of cooking sake on the market, but not all of them are created equal.

The cooking sake might also be labeled ryorishu or ryorishi. That’s a term that you should keep in mind when shopping for this ingredient.

Here are a few of the best brands to buy:

Is cooking sake healthy?

There is no definitive answer to this question since it depends on your personal definition of “healthy.”

Cooking sake does contain alcohol, so if you’re trying to avoid alcohol for health reasons, then cooking sake is not the right choice for you.

However, some people believe that cooking with alcohol can help to extract certain flavors and nutrients from food.

Cooking sake is good for the digestive system since it’s a fermented drink. It also contains antioxidants and small traces of selenium, phosphorous, and copper.

So, if you’re looking for a healthy cooking wine option, sake is a good choice. Just be sure to use it in moderation.

Takeaway

Cooking sake is a type of rice wine that’s commonly used in Japanese cuisine. It has a strong flavor and is often used to marinate or deglaze dishes.

This ingredient is a popular component of Japanese cuisine because it’s thought to help extract certain flavors and nutrients from food.

Many dishes that include sake are cooked with the intention of the alcohol cooking off. It can be added to soups, stews, sauces, marinades, or anything else you can think of.

With plenty of options on the market, now is the perfect time to give cooking sake a try!

Try this Classic teppanyaki beef steak with sake/ soy sauce recipe

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Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.