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. Mirin is nothing like that.
Though once sipped similar to sake, today mirin is exclusively a cooking wine. The clear, viscous liquid has a clean, yet intensely sweet-salty flavour. And while it packs a solid 12 to 14 per cent alcohol, it's really the sugar that counts. Mirin often is as much as 45 per cent sugar.
That sugar explains why mirin works so wonderfully in marinades, glazes and sauces. It tenderizes meats, thickens sauces and creates 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.
For ideas for using mirin, check out the Off the Beaten Aisle column over on Food Network: http://bit.ly/Lb77Ba
Mirin-marinated Short Ribs with Shiitakes and Egg Noodles
Start to finish: 20 minutes active (plus 1 hour marinating)
1 1/2 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
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup soy sauce
In a large bowl or zip-close plastic bag, combine the sliced short ribs, mirin, garlic, 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of 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 saute until starting 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.
Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 1,000 calories; 260 calories from fat (26 per cent of total calories); 29 g fat (10 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 215 mg cholesterol; 118 g carbohydrate; 53 g protein; 6 g fiber; 1940 mg sodium.
J.M. Hirsch is the national food editor for The Associated Press. He is author of the recent cookbook, "High Flavor, Low Labor: Reinventing Weeknight Cooking." His Off the Beaten Aisle column also appears at FoodNetwork.com. Follow him on Twitter http://twitter.com/JM_Hirsch.Suggest a correction