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Looking for Advice on Shaoxing rice wine

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I'm getting ready to try some of the Sichuan recipes in Land of Plenty and one of the ingredients I need that I have not purchased before is Shaoxing wine. Are there any particular brands or things to be aware of? Are there 'cooking wine' variations with salt that I need to avoid?

Also for you SF area hounds I plan on being in Oaklands chinatown and perhaps on Clement in SF next week so I would gladly take any specific store/brand advice there as well.

Thanks,

Nathan

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  1. My wife usually uses Pagoda Brand Shaoxing cooking wine. It's in a square-base bottle with a red label and widely available. Her cooking is all Shanghainese, but I don't know if it really makes any difference. If anything, I think it would be the sweetness that would vary by manufacturer, rather than the saltiness.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Gary Soup

      Thanks Gary-

      My fear on the saltiness was that there would be the chinese equivalent of the european style cooking wines that are sold at grocery stores and are packed with salt to make them undrinkable and saleable to anyone w/o a liquor license.

      Nathan

      1. re: Nathan P.

        To be sure, the Shaoxing cooking wine my wife uses does have salt in it. One bottle (H. E. I. brand) says it's 5.5% of RDA per serving (however that's measured). The Pagoda brand doesn't specify. She uses some salt in cooking as a matter of course, and as adjusting saltiness vs. sweetness to taste seems to be an expected part of her routine, it's not a major issue.

        If you're cooking for someone on a sodium-restricted diet, you might want to go for the drinking wine. The larger markets usually have it, but in a different section.

        That raises an interesting question about the legalities of selling cooking wine. If an underage person really was intent on getting bombed (Shaoxing wine is 15% alcohol), would the salt really stop him/her from drinking it? Has anyone ever been carded while buying cooking wine?

    2. If you can find unsalted Shao Hsing that is meant for drinking, that is far superior to the salted brands meant for cooking. However, that being said, here in Ohio, I have not found it unsalted. Pagoda brand works well if that is what you can get.

      When I lived in Providence, RI, I used to buy the unsalted variety in a Chinese grocery store, where it was sold next to the cooking wines. I know the store had no liquor license, so the owners probably banked on no non-Chinese knowing the difference. I don't remember the brand, but I remember that it tasted quite like a very good dry sherry, and I liked drinking it, as well as cooking with it.

      In SF, you should be able to find a place to buy some that is unsalted. Good luck and happy cooking! Lots of recipes in that book are fabulous!

      1. When you go shopping for Shaoxing rice wine you should know that you can tell if you are getting cooking wine and drinking wine by the price of the item. You can get a good cooking wine in the range of $1.50 to $4.00. It the price tag is in the $10.00 range than it a drinking Shaoxing. You can cook with the drinking verison but you can not drink the cooking verison. If you in Bay Area than 99 Ranch has a big selection. I normally buy from them. As a general rule I use good stuff for stir frying and cheaper one for stewing (where I would add salt anyway). Sometime for "red cooking" we have used a mixture of sherry and shaoxing.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Yimster

          So many Chinese recipes I use Shaoxing wine for say, "Or sustitute cooking sherry..."

          Now, I always have the shaoxing around, but not the sherry...Does the substitution work in reverse, for, say, Western recipes that call for sherry, like black bean soup?

          1. re: galleygirl

            It works great as a substitute for sherry--I have used it to good effect in many non-Asian dishes such as braised pork shoulder, black bean soup, chicken dishes, beef and mushroom stew, etc.

            No one detected any difference in the dish, so there you are. Substitute away.

            1. re: galleygirl

              At one time when I was a kid (that is a long time ago) there was a lack of Chinese products like shaoxing wine. Then it was common pactice to use a cream sherry (as I remember my Mother use Havery's Cream Sherry) in place of Shaoxing wine. It my pactice in cooking the Shanghai pig's knuckle is use both sherry and shaoxing in the braising.
              I have found that both shaoxing and sherry each have great things to offer to the dish. By using both I like to think we are getting the best of both worlds.

          2. I searched using wine-searcher.com and found the wine at Brian's Wine & Liquor Emporium in Piscataway, NJ for $6.99 a bottle, plus tax and shipping. It can be ordered online and shipped to most states.

            However, the search function at the store's web site is in a dumb place (bottom center of the web page) and is stupid -- you have to input the name just so, or it won't come up. Use this exact phrase for your search term:

            Pagoda Shao xing rice wine

            Now you just have to hope that they're not out of it when you try to order it! But it's a beginning ...

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