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Chinese sherry/cooking wine

I've seen several recipes that call for chinese sherry or cooking wine. Can someone let me know how I can tell that I'm buying the right one?

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  1. I know how you feel. Chinese wine is not available in my little hick town, so I have been substituting Sherry. They say dry sherry, but I dunno nothing about sherry so I used what was cheap. I later found out the sherry I chose was on the sweet side (10) so I bought a bottle that was dry (1). Liked the sweeter better.
    The proper wine to use is Shaoxing wine, and I have also read that Sake can be a sub.
    Can't get that here either :-(

    Good luck.

    1 Reply
    1. re: billieboy

      Thanks for the tip, if I can't figure it out, I'll try the sherry or the sake

    2. Shao Hsing wine (cooking grade) is what you are looking for. Pale Dry Cocktail Sherry is a good substitute but about twice as expensive.

      1. First of all, I'd recommend you forget about using "cooking wine" for anything. It is, primarily, wine that is undrinkable and/or couldn't be sold as drinking wine and it often has salt added. My best advice for cooking with wine is NEVER cook with any wine you wouldn't drink. That's a hard fast rule in my kitchen.
        Selecting the wine best suited for your recipe can be a bit tricky. If you do just a little bit of reading about wines you'll find that they can be divided into three general categories (red, white, and rose) and each of those can be sub-divided into three categories (sweet, medium sweet/dry, and dry). You'll find a "Sherry" , for example, in each of the three sub-categories. If it's a dessert of a dish that can handle the sweetness, just select a Sherry. If it's a dry white wine you need, use Reisling, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, or Chardonnay. Sweet red wines (or dark wines) include Marsala, Port, etc. For dry red wine choose a Cabernet Sauvignon (my "go to" wine for red pasta sauces) Zinfandel, Bordeaux, or perhaps a Pinot Noir.
        This post is by no means intended to be a primer on cooking with wine. But you should be able to take this brief outline and read up a bit on cooking with wine and develop a sense of how it can be done successfully without difficulty in about an hour.

        4 Replies
        1. re: todao

          I have heard/read that "cooking wine is wine that is undrinkable and/or couldn't be sold as drinking wine and it often has salt added."

          I have worked for two liquor stores, neither of them sold "cooking wine", nor could any of the distributors get "cooking wine". What brands do you have experience with.

          1. re: Alan408

            I can't comment about brands, but I've seen "cooking wine" sold in supermarkets along with the vinegar, in similarly sized and labeled bottles. It's simply a low-grade, industrial product. The whole point of adding salt, etc. is to make it an ingredient only and not something that's drinkable. Thus it can be sold in supermarkets even in places where it's illegal to sell wine as a beverage.

            1. re: Alan408

              Thanks for the question, Alan. I wouldn't expect to find "cooking wine" in a reputable wine shop, wine store, or on the wine shelf in any market. It's logical that your professional wine distributor/wholesaler wouldn't have access to it through their legitimate sources. They probably don't include vinegar in their inventory either. As I understand it, cooking wine isn't "cooking wine" until the junk is picked up from the winery and sent to a processing/bottling facility to be bottled as "cooking wine". Sorry I can't give you a brand of any that are available locally, but I can tell you that virtually every food market in my area has the stuff. The only brand I could find on the Internet was something labeled "Roland Cooking Wine" but I couldn't tell you if that label is one we have available locally. Frankly, I wouldn't bother to try to remember whose label was on something I would never consider purchasing.

            2. re: todao

              When it comes to chinese cooking, using the Shao Hsing wine or similar rice wine makes a huge huge difference. You can certainly fine ones without the salt added, however it's almost impossible to fine due to importing restrictions at least in my neighbourhood. I've tried using cognac when I've run out of SH and it's not bad, however, I wouldn't use anything else, it's just not the same.

              1. If you cant find real Shaoxing wine, you can get by with Sake mixed 50/50 with Sherry. Neither need be expensive...Kikkioman Sake and Gallo sherry are fine for this. The result is really pretty darned close, certainly close enough for jazz.

                The Shaoxing you would find in any liquor store within a Chinatown area.

                1. I keep a bottle of Harvey's, Saki, and White Vermouth on hand when preparing just about any Asian dish, After a while your taste buds will tell you which to use/ blend or omit. After buying a number of cooking wines you quickly find out that the old adage is indeed true, Never cook with any thing you can't drink.
                  Good luck.

                  1. Look for the Pagoda Brand of Shao Xing if you can get it. No added salt and a higher alcohol content than the cheaper stuff. Costs $5 a bottle in NYC. If you can't get that than use a dry sherry, but never Sake!

                    1. I use Scotch (always on hand) or white wine or dry Sherry if available. I think using Scotch comes from a suggestion in one of Nina Simonds's cookbooks (a lesser-known but very worthy author of Chinese cookbooks - who also did the translations of the first Wei-Chuan - Taiwanese food company which issues cookbooks - books).

                      1. As mentioned, Shao Hsing wine makes a significant contribution to most Chinese dishes that use it. Other than likely starting with a lower grade product, cooking grade differs only in the addition of about 1% salt. That allows it to be sold anywhere. Here in Texas, table grade Shao Hsing wine can only be sold in markets that have a full wine license. Very few Asian markets do. I have only found two in the DFW area that do but I didn’t look very hard. Prices ran $ 8.50 – $ 20.00+ for a 750 ml bottle vs. around $ 2.50 for a good brand of cooking wine.

                        It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me to pay four times the price to avoid a little salt when your 2 tablespoons of wine are going to be followed into the wok by 2-8 tbs of soy sauce, 2 or so tbs of salted black beans, a couple of tbs of some bean sauces and maybe a couple of bouillon cubes.

                        2 Replies
                        1. I remember "Cooking Sherry" in supermarkets a long, long time ago. I forget the name of it, "Gourmet" something or other. It was nothing more than cheap wine with lots of salt and maybe some dried herbs and cost like two or three times the price of undoctored wine.

                          Just buy an inexpensive bottle of drinkable sherry or sake for like 4 or 5 dollars and you'll be fine.