Last week was a wipe out because I was in Denver to tape an
online class for Craftsy. (More on that very cool new project in the weeks to
come!) I was somewhat brain dead from the long work days so I didn’t tune into
some of the comments on the teriyaki chicken recipe until today. There were several points
made about mirin, how the typical stuff sold at many markets is basically
fructose, glucose and a little alcohol. It’s also expensive, given the amount
of mirin that many Japanese recipes call for. “Can you make your own mirin?” Gina asked.
While I’ve had to come up
with mirin substitutes in a pinch, I’d never thought of making my own. Mirin
seemed like such a mystery, kind of sacred. Gina put me to the task so I looked
at the glossary of several Japanese cookbooks and the best source of
information came from Hiroko Shimbo’s The Japanese Kitchen. Hiroko
gave the best low down on mirin and as usual, her insights were illuminating:
- Real, honest
mirin is golden yellow and sweet, with a rich mouthfeel. The alcohol content is
roughly 14 percent, and it’s made from glutinous rice, distilled alcohol, and koji-cultured
rice (koji refers to Aspergillus oryzae,
a fungus used to produce liquor, vinegar, and to inoculate soybeans).
- Mirin was
originally used as a sugar substitute in Japan because sugar was scarce and
expensive. Mirin came out of the production of rice wine, during which starches
are converted to sugars (i.e., glucose and maltose).
- You can drink
well-made mirin. For example, toso is
a mirin infused with various Chinese medicinal herbs. It used to be a new year
- Synthetic mirin
is the go-to these days so it’s not fit for drinking. The popularity of modern,
synthetic mirin dates to the post World War II, when Japan’s tax on the authentic,
boozy version of mirin rose to 230 percent; it was due to the severe rice
shortage. People were forced to rely on the cheaper synthetic stuff and few
people looked back.
I’ve made and eaten Chinese
and Vietnamese fermented rice, so I had a sense of what the flavor of real mirin
was like. It’s winey, sweet and thick. The difference is that there’s a higher
alcohol content in mirin, due to the distilled liquor involved.
Hiroko suggested a mirin sub
in her book: for 1 tablespoon of mirin, combine 1 tablespoon sake and 2
I wanted that rich round
flavor so instead of white granulated sugar, I used organic sugar, which has a
more complex flavor; organic sugar is a tad more intensely sweet than white
sugar and weighs a bit more too. I also cooked the sake and sugar up – sort of
like a simple syrup.
To give things a slight
roundness, I also tinkered with combining sake with pure cane syrup, an old
fashioned sweetener that’s popular in the American South. The color was dark
but the flavor lovely. Then, I added a touch of the cane syrup to my blend of
organic sugar and sake, which gave the mirin a bit more depth without darkening
it too much. I had to taste all the
variations and got a bit light headed with the boozy sweetness. The purchased
bottled stuff seemed so flat and blah by comparison. While my homemade mirin is not a true, authentic version, it has more character than the synthetic stuff. I'm going to try it out on a new batch of teriyaki sauce.
What can you do? You have
these options if you want to use DIY mirin instead of the synthetic stuff:
1) Swap out the quantity of
mirin called for in a recipe with a mixture of 2:3 sugar and sake. If you use
organic sugar like I did, back off the sugar in the rest of the recipe as the
mirin will be more intensely sweet than commercially made mirin.
2) Make your own and keep the
jar in the fridge. Below is a recipe to play with. If you have golden syrup
(a light treacle), that would work in lieu of the cane syrup and/or granulated
sugar. Try another kind of sugar, like turbinado. Halve the recipe, if you want
to mess around with it without wasting ingredients. Do report your findings!
generous 1/2 cup (120 ml)
- 5 tablespoons (65
g) sugar, such as organic cane sugar
- 1/2 cup (120 ml)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons pure
cane syrup, such as Steen’s
- Combine the
ingredients in a very small saucepan, such as butter warmer/melter. Bring to
boil over medium heat, give things a stir to ensure the sugar has dissolved.
- Remove from the
heat and set aside to cool. Taste and add the cane syrup for depth, if you like.
Several VWK recipes that use mirin: