Ever wondered what gives Japanese cuisine its wonderfully unique flavors? While there are many ingredients often only found in Japanese dishes, the defining one would have to be sake. Also known as Japanese rice wine, sake can be drunk, like wine, at room temperature, chilled or even hot (mulled wine, anyone?). But it’s not a good pairing that makes the food so delicious, it’s how it’s used in both classic and modern Japanese recipes.
A fundamental condiment that has history
Sake has been a part of Japan’s culture since approximately 500 BC. It has many different types and uses. It’s drunk at social occasions, offered up to deities at religious ceremonies, given out at store openings, and used at other celebrations. So it’s really no surprise that there for cuisine you can get cooking sake. Cooking sake has more salt in it and is lower in alcohol content, which makes it perfect to use in all those online recipes you’ve been dying to try. High-class restaurants tend to use drinking sake in all their culinary masterpieces, but for the everyday chef, cooking sake works just fine.
Cooking sake is considered a condiment in Japan. It enhances the flavors of the foods it’s cooked with. Think of how you would use red or white wine in cooking. It’s like that but with a Japanese flavor profile!
The benefits of using sake in cooking
So, how does sake make food taste so good? First of all, it removes the more powerful odors from meat and fish giving it a more subtle aroma balance. The alcohol in sake allows other flavors to sink more deeply into the dish. It also has a tenderizing effect on meat and fish. The moisture is locked inside, making them juicy and tender.
The amino acids and glutamic acid in sake also add umami and richness to dishes, while the glucose and sucrose give it a sweetness that you can’t get from sugar alone. As well as giving food an exquisite flavor, sake also provides health benefits. It’s a fermented food product, which means it has antioxidants that aid in digestion.
Different ways to use cooking sake
There is one sauce famous in Japanese cuisine that you might be familiar with that makes use of this marvelous ingredient–teriyaki sauce! Which is amazing to serve on salmon, chicken, beef, and pork or even as a dipping sauce. Want to try it as a marinade? Make teba shio (salted chicken wings)! Just let the chicken wings soak in all that sake goodness for 10 minutes, pat dry, add salt and pepper, then broil. You’ll find your wings are extra crispy.
You can give your rice a more distinctive, full-bodied flavor by adding cooking sake into the mix. In soups and stews, you can get a deep, rich taste that compliments most broths. Baked goods become more moist (hello, sake pound cake), and the flavors in a stir fry become much more vivid with sake. Once you’ve started adding it to your recipes, you’ll be asking yourself, “Why didn’t I use sake for cooking?!”