Sukiyaki sauce, also known as Warishita, is a Japanese sauce that defines the flavor of sukiyaki.
The main ingredients are sugar, Japanese soy sauce, mirin, and sake. This simple sauce is the key to make a sukiyaki dish, a sweet and savory hot pot traditionally from Japan.
Although a sukiyaki sauce recipe is simple and easy, this condiment leaves a big room to create different flavors between many sukiyaki dishes.
The Authentic Warishita
Overall, the flavor of sukiyaki comes as a result of balancing sweetness and saltiness.
The sweetness comes from the sugar. Some people prefer using brown sugar while others prefer regular white sugar.
The sugar will get caramelized while cooking, enhancing its taste.
Japanese soy sauce, locally known by the name “Shoyu”, has a salty flavor. Sometimes you don’t even need to add salt to the dish if you already use a generous amount of it.
This sauce is what creates a balance for the sugar.
And sake and mirin are what create the depth and complexity to the flavor.
Mirin also adds sweetness to the flavor, while sake will add lightness to the sukiyaki stock.
Japanese soy sauce, mirin, and sake are what make the sukiyaki taste “Japanese” because these condiments are authentic.They are also what create distinct tastes of sukiyaki from one restaurant to another. Because, in Japan, there are many kinds and brands of those three condiments.
Not to mention that some old restaurants may use self-produced condiments using old secret recipes that have been passed down from generation to generation.
Japanese Sukiyaki sauce recipe
- ¼ cup brown sugar
- 1 cup Japanese soy sauce
- 1 cup mirin
- 1 cup sake
- You can use more mirin and less sake to get a deeper sweetness of flavor. But if you prefer it to taste lighter, pour the sake in a larger amount than mirin.
- To cook the sukiyaki sauce, you can pour all the ingredients in one pan. Put it on medium heat and simmer it until it boils. Turn off the heat and set it aside. Your Warishita is now ready to use.
If you don’t have all of the ingredients, here are some of my favorite brands:
I’ve even written this in-depth post about cooking sake you can take a look at. It’s probably the most used ingredient for Umami in Japanese cooking.
Best Ready-Made storebought Sukiyaki Sauce
Even though it is easy to cook your sukiyaki sauce, sometimes we are too lazy or have no time for it.
Also, balancing flavors could be pretty challenging if we are not familiar with it.
As a solution, you can buy a ready-made sukiyaki sauce from supermarkets or online marketplaces. Here are some popular brands:
Kikkoman Sukiyaki Sauce
Kikkoman is a leading brand of Asian cooking sauces, with most products, which are of Japanese cuisines.
Their sukiyaki sauce is one of the most best-selling products.
The company is still using traditional brewing methods to preserve the authentic tastes of their sauce. This brand is the most-exported sukiyaki sauce throughout the world.
Yamasa Sukiyaki Senka
Yamasa sukiyaki sauce provides enhanced flavor of regular Warishita. It combines regular shoyu with Tamari as its main ingredient.
Some bits of bonito flakes and kombu extract are also added, making the flavor even more savory.
Yamasa is a US company, but they imported their sukiyaki sauce from Japan. Hence, the product would be easy to find in America without lacking authentic Japanese taste.
Ebara Sukiyaki Sauce
Ebara is also a leading brand of Japanese ready-made sauces. This brand provides two variations of sukiyaki sauce to cater for people with different preferences.
They have sukiyaki sauces in both original and mild taste.
How to Serve and Eat Sukiyaki
Sukiyaki is a Japanese hot pot dish similar to Shabu Shabu. But instead of having a clear broth, sukiyaki broth is dark in color, thanks to the sukiyaki sauce.
The dish contains beef or pork in thin slices and many kinds of vegetables such as mushrooms, scallions, bok choy, and napa cabbage.
There are two common ways to serve sukiyaki; the Kanto-style and the Kansai-style.
In Kansai, people start cooking the sukiyaki by mixing Washitara with water and let the broth boil. Without turning off the heat, put in all the vegetables and meat altogether.
Kanto style uses the same ingredients as the Kansai style. But it does not use Warishita as one united sauce.
People in Kanto start cooking the sukiyaki by simmering the meat in the pot first with sugar and soy sauce to draw out the grease.
After the meats are done, pour in the water, mirin, and sake, along with all the vegetables.
You also need to beat a raw egg in a bowl and serve it alongside the hot pot as a dipping sauce.
Although the egg sauce is authentically from Kansai, this condiment has been a common thing in every area of Japan.
Traditionally, you will receive an individual bowl and chopsticks to eat the sukiyaki.
There will also be a bigger chopstick called Tori-Bashi to move things from the sukiyaki pot to your bowl.
Using your chopsticks for this purpose would seem disgusting and rude because you also put them in your mouth.
How to Eat Sukiyaki
A beaten raw egg in a small bowl would always be present at the side of the sukiyaki bowl to use as a dipping sauce.
Although it may seem strange to some foreigners, Japanese people consider this condiment as another key to the sukiyaki delights.
To eat the sukiyaki, take a few dishes from the hot pot to your bowl. Then, take one slice of meat out of your bowl with your chopsticks, and dip it into your egg bowl.
The combination of sukiyaki sauce and raw egg will taste less delicious as they turn colder.
It is highly advisable to not have too many dishes in your bowl because they will get colder in time.
Meanwhile, the one in the big pot will stay hot. That is why a Tori-Bashi is provided in the serving of sukiyaki.
If you live outside Japan, finding ingredients for a Warishita might be difficult that you may need to consider using a substitute instead.
People with some specific food restrictions also may replace one or more ingredients to make the sukiyaki edible for them.
There must be no problem with sugar because you can use regular sugar to make the sukiyaki sauce. However, the other three might be quite challenging.
Japanese Soy Sauce (Shoyu)
Although many countries in Asia have their versions of soy sauce, they may taste far different. Hence, not any soy sauce can replace a Japanese soy sauce.
If you have celiac disease or are allergic to wheat, a Japanese sauce called Tamari would make the best substitute for the shoyu.
The sauce is also made from soy with no wheat ingredients in it, making it gluten-free. The taste is similar to traditional shoyu.
People allergic to soy can use a coconut amino instead, which is also much easier to find in western countries.
This unique sauce is gluten-free, soy-free, vegan, and even paleo-friendly. Coconut amino has a salty and umami flavor, like Shoyu and Tamari.
If you aim for healthier sukiyaki, this condiment would make a healthier substitute to shoyu for its lower calories and sodium content.
Mirin has a unique taste of sweet and tangy with lower alcohol content than sake. It is also aromatic, which makes the sukiyaki smell more mouth-watering.
Mirin is easy to find in Japan that almost most households have one bottle on the stock. But outside Japan, mirin would not be that common to find in the markets.
The closest substitute for mirin would be dry sherry, vermouth, or sweet marsala wine. These alcoholic substances have a sweet fruity flavor and similar kicks of booze.
If you use dry sherry or vermouth, we recommend adding more sugar into the mix to balance the sourness they naturally contain.
Sweet Marsala wine wouldn’t need added sugar because it is already sweeter and not sour.
Those three alternatives are not suitable if you avoid alcohol. The best bets you can try are white grape juice or rice vinegar.
White grape juice has a more fruity flavor but is not quite acidic.
You need to add a tablespoon of pure lemon juice to a cup of white grape juice to create a similar taste with mirin.
On the other hand, rice vinegar is a little bit sour. You can counteract the taste by adding a little more sugar.
Sake contains more alcohol than mirin. Most people describe the taste of sake as nutty, flowery, and light. It does not have a strong fragrance as mirin.
The easier-to-find alternatives for sake would be Chinese rice wine or white wine.
Both are less aromatic and taste lighter than regular wine, so they will not overpower the fragrance of mirin or their substitute.
These beverages also contain a high percentage of alcohol.
If alcohol should be off your table, you can skip on the sake.
But since you also substitute mirin with non-alcohol alternatives, you might need additional ingredients to add more savory and complexity to the flavor of your sukiyaki sauce.
For this purpose, you can try adding a beef stock or dashi stock in the mix.
Note: These substitute ingredients may deliver a delicious result for your sukiyaki sauce, expect the taste to be different from the authentic recipes.
The taste characteristics of shoyu, mirin, and sake are so unique that they can’t be easily replaced without changing the outcome flavor.
Sukiyaki is one of the most popular dishes in Japanese cuisine. The hot pot can come as comfort food that is rich in nutrition because it contains many vegetables and protein on it.
The sukiyaki sauce recipe is simple and easy, making it possible to have your home-made sukiyaki party.
Get to know everything that makes Japanese food great:92 best authentic Japanese food recipes by Pearl Ishizaki
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If you like to try out different Japanese sauces, then my post on sushi sauces would also be a great read for you.
It has 9 kinds of sauces that you regularly eat at a sushi restaurant, fully explained.