Shopping for Hoisin and Mirin. Any Good Brands?
I was in my local supermarket and saw Kikkoman hoisin, but the salt content was through the roof. Is that typical, or should I look for a different brand? Any tips for mirin as well? I do have access to Asian markets if there are brands I can find there.
I use Lee Kum Kee hoisin because that's what they use at my favorite Vietnamese restaurant (Quang in Minneapolis) and because it's not made in China. I've quit buying Chinese products following the toxic dog food scandal and since I learned they export radioactive steel made from recycled medical equipment and put lead in cellophane noodles. I use Kikkoman hon-mirin that I get from my local liquor store. The difference between hon- and aji- is simple: hon means "true" and aji means "taste". In other words, hon-mirin is the real thing and aji-mirin is made to taste like the real thing.
For me, the best time to check out salt content on EVERYTHING is in the market! Even at my Asian markets, where much of certain foods may be imported, the labels normally meet U.S.ingredient and nutrition information requirements in order to make import simpler. Comparison of salt content between brands on the shelf is not usually that difficult.
With all sauces, whether ketchup and prepared mustard or Hoisin and duck sauce, flavor changes are always present from brand to brand, and the ingredients lists can vary widely. Sometimes I may buy something knowingly that is higher in salt content than other brands on the shelf *IF* it has a flavor profile that cannot be matched AND I can compensate for the salt content in some other way. As a general rule, and regardless of what "nationality" I am cooking in, I rarely use salt before the very end of the cooking/preparation process because salt content often is concentrated in cooking. It is ALWAYS easier to add salt, even if it is at the table, than it is to take salt out!
With wines, whether it is mirin, or Shao Xing, or "red wine," I NEVER buy anything labeled "cooking." ALL "cooking" wines, including mirin and Shao Xing, are dosed with salt, primarily to change their tax rates and gain omission from liquor license laws. My personal rule of thumb for any kind of fermented liquid is that if its not good enough to drink, it's not good to cook with.
Koon Chun is my fave brand for hoisin sauce. Luckily, I live close to Chinatown and it's a reasonable price. If you don't, I'll say look online (importfood.com) and shop for all your asian food needs. It costs more, but you're better off with buying good quality online than spending the same amount on crappy supermarket knockoffs.
I use the Takara mirin mentioned in the Times article. Apparently it's gone up in price a bit, but is still cheaper than the manufactured stuff, which isn't cheap itself, for smaller bottles. Depending on your state's laws, it may be harder to come by since it has no added salt, is drinkable, and so is regulated as an alcoholic beverage. In NY, it can only be sold in liquor stores and isn't exactly widely distributed. In other states, it can be sold next to the aji-mirin on grocery store shelves...
For the hoisin sauce, I would say it depends slightly on your intended use. If mostly as a condiment, I like the Lee Kum Kee in the squirt bottle, too, but it's seasoned whereas , e.g., Koon Chun I think is meant more as a cooking ingredient without the distraction of the pre-added seasonings.
For hoisin, i use Koon Chun.
Mirin for home sushi use and Asian cooking is Kikkoman.
I get a little more picky for Rice vinegar, but the above two products have served me well for many many years.
======" Kikkoman aji mirin is not real mirin (sweet rice wine/sake) but a flavored corn syrup".==========
Call it what you want paulj, but it does have an 8% alcohol content.
It's not high end mirin but it's far from being Karo or Coca Cola like you seem to have insinuated.
They all have their place and their use.
discusses that difference between hon mirin and aji mirin.
I'm not an expert on this seasoning. For a while I was using aji mirin liberally, but then decided I was doing little more than adding some sweetness to the dish. But since the prices of hon mirin are so high, I stopped buying mirin at all. Now I have a small bottle of Yaegoki brand, which I use sparingly.
I shouldn't badmouth aji mirin. It must have its place, since Kikkoman sells it in quantities that can only be accounted for by its popularity among Japanese and Japanese Americans. Plus I use powdered hondashi instead of shaving my own bonito, so I'm no purist.
And that was my only point paulj.
It's a Japanese made product that has a big following in both japan and the ROTW.
Aji-Mirin is fine for my daily home cooking needs. But I don't crank out or sell $50 dollar plates of sushi (or should I really say sushi with mirin flavored rice) daily from my home. LOL.
I do like the higher quality hon mirin but use it when the opportunity arises.
As for the Koon Chun hoisin, I thin with stock or liquid of choice, cook to a simmer and then cool.
It's pretty intense in it's raw form as most daily users will attest. Call it Asian ketchup but it does need thinning and tempering. At least in my Daily use. LKK in the sqiurt bottle---not so much.
At one time Koon Chun, with its distinctive blue and yellow labels, was the main, even only, brand of hoisin in the USA, and probably set the expectations for many of us. These days I end up buying more LKK sauces. My latest purchase was a small bottle of Amoy brand, which doesn't quite match what I expected.
You do not want aji-mirin, you want hon-mirin -- it is the real stuff. Aji-mirin is not real mirin. Sorry. Check out http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/29/din...
As for Hoisin, I am still looking for a favorite. We used to get one we liked but I can no longer find it (and I don't have an empty jar). Ask at the Asian market which one they like and why. FYI, I often mix a bit of mirin with the hoisin for dipping stuff in.