Mirin is one of the staple ingredients of Japanese cuisine. It has a distinct sweet flavor and is ideal for making sauces, soups and marinades. Not many people know, though, that mirin is also a drink. It has a low alcohol content and is sometimes used in ceremonial toasts, especially at the New Year and other celebrations.
Cooks use Mirin not only for its flavor but its color and appearance. It has a gorgeous yellow-golden tone that gives an appetizing sheen on meat and fish. That is why it is often used to coat food, easily and subtly enhancing the presentation—which is so very important in Japanese cuisine, where color is part of the overall “balance” or “perfection” of the dish.
Mirin also has a pleasant scent, which helps tone down the fishy smell of seafood. That is why many people use mirin even in non-Japanese dishes, because it helps balance the very strong tastes of meat and fish, while its sweetness can complement the savoriness of other ingredients. People can experiment by substituting mirin for traditional cooking wines, or for any dish where a touch of sweetness is required. It is particularly good with ginger based dishes.
Mirin is made from glutinous rice, which is mixed with distilled spirits and then briefly fermented. The process is carefully monitored to make sure that the sweet flavor is not lost during fermentation. The sweet taste of mirin is more valued than the actual alcohol content.
Mirin can be found in Asian supermarkets or any store that carries a wide selection of liquors.