"Don't use mirin, use ****?"
Shopping one day we had mirin on our list for our prochef son who makes sushi. Couldn't find it and asked a sushi preparer. She said that we shouldn't use mirin at all. All it was was MSG and Japanese sushi makers don't use it. She named an alternative which I recognized at the time but now cannot recall (rice wine?).
What was it, do you suppose?
It's rice vinegar, sugar and salt. Some lower end places use that MSG powder instead. But I don't think a reputable place would use it.
I think the most authentic way to prepare sushi rice is with rice vinegar, seasoned with sugar and salt. You can buy it preseasoned, or you can season plain rice vinegar to taste.
Mirin is a lot more syrupy and I've only seen it called for in very Americanized recipes for sushi rice. The best-quality mirins are inherently sweet and do not have added sugar or MSG. You can find this kind of mirin in health food stores.
She was wrong. "Cheap" mirin is often simply sake with corn syrup, but hon-mirin is a traditional sweetener made from sweet rice and koji. And many sushi recipes still use mirin. It adds a wonderful depth of flavor.
My favorite mirin is Mitoku's Mikawa mirin, and, according to what I've read is either the only or one of the only makers still using traditional methods. A bit of salt is added in order to be able to import it into the US. Eden makes a natural mirin with regular rice which is pretty good. Mirin is expensive, but since only a little is used it's not bad per use -- even the good stuff.
I found the Mikawa mirin online at Simply Natural.