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Mirin: Cooking with Asian ingredients at home

In this column Beate Baldry forages for exciting Asian ingredients readily available in Singapore to discover their traditional uses and ways to incorporate them into Western home cooking.

This month’s ingredient: Mirin

What is it?
Hon mirin, literally “true mirin”, is a low-alcohol (around 14 percent), sweet Japanese cooking wine made from glutinous rice combined with the distilled alcohol shochu and fermented for a few months. Commercially produced, synthetic, condiment-style mirins such as Aji Mirin, which are popular for cooking due to their ready availability, contain much less alcohol (and as such are less expensive and exempt from the tax levy) but they don’t have the same aroma or similar properties in cooking.

The flavour
Hon mirin is golden in colour with a sweet taste and delicate aroma.

 

Where to find it?
In the Japanese aisle of supermarkets or in the alcoholic beverages section.

Uses
• Now mostly used for cooking, mirin is ideal for toning down strong tastes and odours, particularly those of fish, while bringing out the flavours of other ingredients; a synthetic, condiment-style mirin will not be as effective in reducing odours due to its low alcohol content.
• Mirin gives an interesting depth of flavour to dishes and adds a brilliant glaze to sauces.
• Interestingly, mirin can change the texture of foods such as fish if added too early in cooking. The alcohol content helps the proteins contract, causing the texture to firm up, so it’s best to add mirin in the later stages if you want to retain the soft, delicate texture of the fish.
• It is the prime ingredient in teriyaki sauce and the dressing served with tempura.
• Mirin is also used in a ceremonial drink to celebrate the beginning of sh ōgatsu,the Japanese new year. A special spice mixture is soaked in mirin to make the traditional drink toso, which is drunk to chase away the previous year’s misfortunes. A saying goes: “If one person drinks this, his family will not fall ill; if the whole family does, no-one in the village will fall ill.”

 

Cooking at home
You can use a mixture of sake and sugar, rice vinegar and sugar or sweet sherry as a mirin substitute. One tablespoon of mirin equates to three teaspoons of sake plus one teaspoon of sugar.

Recipe: Nigella Lawson’s Mirin Glazed Salmon (Serves 4)

Ingredients
• 60ml mirin
• 50g light brown sugar
• 60ml soy sauce
• 4 x salmon fillets
• 2 x 15ml tablespoons rice vinegar
• 2 spring onions, halved and shredded into fine strips
• Coriander

Method
1. Marinate the salmon in a mixture of the mirin, brown sugar and soy sauce for ten minutes. Meanwhile heat a large non-stick frying pan.
2. Cook the salmon in the hot, dry pan until one side is seared (two minutes or so) then turn the fish over, add the marinade and cook for another two minutes or until done (when the flesh comes away easily with a fork).
3. Remove the salmon and keep it warm in the oven. Meanwhile, add the rice vinegar to the marinade in the pan and warm it through.
4. Pour the glaze over the salmon, top with strips of spring onion and coriander and serve it with jasmine or sushi rice.

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