In the Kitchen, Japan, Ronin, Sunday's Grocery, Yardbird • Jul 20, 2017
We’ve talked a lot about sake here on sundaysgrocery.com, including how to order it, what to pair it with, and the cups you should sip it out of. However, sake is much more than just an alcoholic beverage and plays an equally important role in Japanese-style cooking and it does in Japanese-style drinking.
Sake is used in all sorts of Japanese foods – everything from steamed seafood to teriyaki sauce to nabe (hot pot) broth. It’s often used in stocks and sauces to add body, umami flavor, and a touch of sweetness. Sake is also used in marinades for meat and fish to help tenderize them and eliminate odor. And some people even believe that cooking with sake has health benefits! While sake is a staple in Japanese kitchens, this fermented beverage made from rice (and only rice) is increasingly being explored as an ingredient in Western kitchens as well.
The type of sake you should use for cooking is debatable as it really depends on preference and what you are trying to achieve with a dish. On the one hand, you can use ryorishu, or cooking sake. But remember, manufacturers of cooking sake are required by law to add 2-3% salt in order to make it unfit for drinking. It’s more accessible as stores that aren’t licensed to sell alcohol can stock ryorishu, which imparts a bolder flavor compared to regular sake; however, it should be used in moderation because of the additional salt. On the other hand, some people recommend only cooking with a sake that you would drink – a similar piece of advice we hear when it comes to cooking with wine. A nice, drinkable sake will have more complex flavors and can elevate a dish. An inexpensive table sake should work just fine, or even leftover quality sake if you have it at home, but it’s probably not worth opening up a new bottle of expensive junmai daiginjo to cook with!