I live in Oklahoma City. We have a large Vietnamese population and several really good Oriental groceries. I looked for mirin in the liquor stores and can't find it. However, there are many brands of mirin on the shelves in the Oriental grocery stores, but they all have salt and sugar. Is this the only mirin there is? Or is there mirin that is drinkable? What is a good brand, or should I go by the highest price?
There is real, brewed mirin but unless OK City or somewhere relatively nearby has a sizeable Japanese population, I don't know if you'll find it; it's not used by other Asian cultures.
For starters, can grocery stores sell drinkable, non-"cooking"-wine and/or liquor there? In New York, you have to go to a liquor store to get it and I've never seen any variety, just the US-produced Takara brand. I can't imagine a connoisseur would be impressed, but it's much better than the more common corn-syrup-MSG conconction. (I've read about but never seen aged mirin.) Last time I bought it, it was around $7-8 for a 750ml bottle. Cheaper than the fake stuff, ironically. Oh, and just as a warning, "drinkable" is relative; even properly brewed mirin is syrupy sweet so you probably won't want to actually drink much of it.
Drinkable? Just buy sake or soju to drink. I have always thought as mirin as just a cooking wine. To add a little sweet to a sauce, marinade or dressing. I buy the cheap stuff or what is on sale. It is an ingredient I use quite a bit but never gave much thought to buy the best of. It is cheap sweet rice wine for cooking, its not fancy just Asian.
Spend more on sake or soju.
I'm in Fort Worth, and I haven't been able to find it here either. I used to buy bottles directly from the sake/mirin place in Sonoma when I lived in CA. And I also could find it on the shelves of the Asian grocers there. Here in TX, and I'm sure it is the same in OK, the liquor laws are so much different.
I'll check to see if I can find anyplace in CA that will ship to TX & OK. I really miss using mirin in cooking and in salad dressing.
Are you looking for something to drink or cook with? My mother is Japanese and she usually buys Kikkoman Aji-Mirin, generally because it's the easiest to find. You can even find it at Safeway in our area. She only uses it for cooking though, it's very sweet and only contains 8% alcohol.
The best type is hon-mirin (lit. true mirin) which only contains the ingredients of water, glutinous rice, koji mold, and alcohol. If you can't find that I would buy whatever has the fewest ingredients. Depending on what type of dish you are using it for, you may not notice a big difference if any. You are definitely not going to drink it no matter what you get - it's at least 40% sugar.
For those of you who can't find anything locally, amazon sells some different types of mirin. Most of them have some sort of seasoning and/or preservative, except for the Eden foods brand. That one is made with brown rice, so I don't know how it compares to a true Japanese mirin.
You can also check health-food stores, where mirin is shelved with other Asian condiments like soy sauce, etc. I would guess it would be on the expensive side, and perhaps of better quality than the run-of-the-mill. I've definitely seen it at my local health store.
My understanding is that by definition Mirin has sugar in it - it's basically a sweet cooking wine. Salt would probably to comply with liquor laws, selling it as an ingredient rather than a beverage. I've only encountered it in cooking, never drunk by itself.
If you want a beverage, you could go for sake. If you can't get mirin, the usual substitution is sake and sugar.
When we cook we generally have Mirin on hand - I can't help you with the brand, as the label is in Japanese only - and an inexpensive sake. For drinking you can go for the better quality sakes, and get them at a liquor store, to start with. If you're drinking it, you want to finish it pretty quickly, but sake for cooking can be kept a long time in a cool place.
Sake and mirin are both used in cooking, but both can be drunk as well. That is good mirin can be drunk. It's not widely available in the US, and I have no idea how popular it is in Japan, but it exists. It's very, very sweet but is brewed from rice, like sake, and usually aged. "Aji-mirin" refers to the industrial stuff made from sweetener, often corn sweetener at that, and alcohol that is, except perhaps by the desperate, not drunk at all but just used as an ingredient.
I think most people use cheap drinking sake (like those 1.5 liter bottles) for cooking, but there is also such a thing as "cooking sake." I'm not really clear on it, but unlike American "cooking wine", I think it's more of a raw product than an inferior one, made with less polished rice and supposedly with more umami for flavoring rather than drinking purposes. I don't think it's very widely used, but I've seen it in Japanese grocery stores. It's actually more expensive than cheap drinking sake, for whatever that says. I've never used it, so I don't know if there's an appreciable difference and whether it's a good difference or a bad one. ;)
Edit: Here's the (more specific) source of my info about cooking sake: http://translate.google.com/translate... It's a pretty bad machine translation but the basic idea is reasonably clear.
Best Mirin ever is Mikawa Mirin (http://www.naturalimport.com/inc/sdet...).
Nothing beats this. I love it. It's one of the few
you can drink.
The complex one-year process used to make this extraordinary mirin is only still practiced by Mr. Toshio Sumiya, head brew master of Sumiya Bunjiro Shoten. The traditional methods employed involve a double fermentation and distillation process. The result is a sweet, thick, golden liquid that brings out the natural flavors of both sweet and savory sauces, soups, stir-fries, dips and desserts. Mikawa mirin is so pure and delicious, you can actually drink it and is the only mirin ever to receive the "Diamond Award for Excellence" in Japan.
Description on bottle:
Mirin is the secret ingredient in authentic Japanese cuisine. An exquisite, versatile seasoning, mirin's mild sweetness complements savory seasonings such as shoyu and miso. The Sumiya family is the last of the traditional Mirin makers. Their organic Mikawa Mirin is the finest in all of Japan. It is naturally aged over 9 months to create an unmatched gentle sweetness, a rare, magical quality that enhances and harmonizes delicate flavors. Enjoy this truly authentic mirin, a treat rarely seen even on store shelves in Japan!