Sake alternative

Bento-ing from: Vancouver › British Columbia › Canada
Joined: 28 Apr 2009
User offline. Last seen 7 years 19 weeks ago.

I love the recipes here and cook them quite often for my work lunch group. Only problem is that there's a new person in our group who is a recovering alcoholic. I don't want to cause any problems for her because of my carelessness. Can anyone suggest an alternative to sake & mirin that will offer some of the same benefits (i.e. tenderizing the protein) without the drawbacks?? Please help!!! I want to make both Chili Prawns & Soboro, so any help is welcome. Thank you in advance!

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Bento-ing from: London › UK
Joined: 4 Mar 2009
User offline. Last seen 4 years 3 weeks ago.
Re: Sake alternative

It's easy enough to get non-alcoholic mirin, so this should present no problem.

As for the sake substitution, this is a subject that comes up reasonably regularly on this site.
What I consider to be the core advice is here:

Maki's point about vinegar not being a suitable substitution for sake is a good one, but, in my opinion, there are exceptions. Then again, there are different grades of vinegars also - the problem is that the most rounded, least sour tasting quality vinegars often have trace amounts of alcohol in them -and I understand that for some recovering alcoholics, any amount of alcohol is kryptonite.
Ignoring this, and assuming you can get a general purpose non-alcoholic vinegar, the chili prawn recipe is one of those instances where a table spoon of vinegar might make an acceptable alternative to sake - as long as you can also substitute the ketchup for a tomato sauce or paste that isn't too vinegary to go with it. Sake helps fuse the tastes of the doubanjang and ketchup's sweetness together, it's better with sake, but this recipe will certainly still taste good without it, particularly if you have a great doubanjang or alternative chilli flavour.

As I don't eat any other meat but fish, it's better that I don't comment on the soboro recipe (although I have used this recipe to flavour minced quorn). However, I do know that papaya (either the skin or the seeds) is used to tenderise beef and other dark meats.
I use a toothpaste based on the enzymes found in papaya, they seem very effective to me.

Bento-ing from: somewhere › France
Joined: 24 Jan 2007
User offline. Last seen 2 years 4 weeks ago.
Re: Sake alternative

This question comes up quite often (not always in relation to alcoholics). The alcohol in sake and mirin (not to mention wine, etc.) evaporates at around 70 degrees C, so if you heat it up beyond that level it should be gone. Since you are only using spoonful amounts (presumably) anyway, using sake or mirin in cooking should not have any effects on an alcoholic - the miniscule amount of alcohol that could be left over is about the same that occurs naturally in ripe fruit. There are some religious reasons for omitting alcohol from food however (such as for Muslims).

In which case, the only thing I can suggest if no alcohol can be added for whatever reason is to simply omit it. You may add some sugar to substitute for the sweetness in the mirin, but it's the alcohol as much as anything that causes the food to become less gamy, more tender, and so I cannot really suggest a 'real' substitute.


The Big Onigiri.

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Bento-ing from: Vancouver › British Columbia › Canada
Joined: 28 Apr 2009
User offline. Last seen 7 years 19 weeks ago.
Re: Sake alternative

Thank you for your help. I tried both recipes without the sake/mirin components and it was lacking...something. Still a lot better than any of the japanese restaurants in town! BTW, I made the soboro with "ground round" - a vegetarian soy-based alternative - and it turned out great. I'm not familiar with minced quorn, will have to check that out. I'm really interested in the papaya trick, I'll have to *experiment* with that one.

Thank you again for your suggestions and for Maki's truly delicious recipes! I look forward to the release of your book, Maki.

Bento-ing from: › USA
Joined: 12 Aug 2009
User offline. Last seen 5 years 47 weeks ago.
Re: Sake alternative

There are also various powdered meat tenderizers available with different flavors (I've never tried one, but they should be easy to find in the grocery store). These would probably be tasty for soboro, but unless it's papaya-based as Loretta said, you may want to check the ingredient list. If the issue at hand is solely texture and not flavor, there's always the bludgeoning approach.

Your concern for your coworker is very kind. I've known recovering alcoholics who can walk into a bakery and smell the alcohol in the already-baked rum cakes; even evaporated alcohol is a big issue for some people. However, since the amount of mirin used is small and it's not the dominant flavor in the dish (like it is for rum cake), she will likely be okay. If it's not a sensitive subject, it might be good to ask for her to approve your cooking process (I'm sure you thought of that already).

Re: Sake alternative

In a recipe I have used white grape juice as a substitute for sake and that turned out just fine. Though I will admit I did not use it for a meat recipe in which the sake had to tenderize it, but for my miso glazed sake it turned out just as well. I had no complaints.

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