Get to know sake! Japan’s most famous of brews has multiple uses and purposes. Learn about the main difference between drinking sake and cooking sake.
What is sake?
Sake (日本酒) is a Japanese rice beer made of fermented rice.
Crafted from rice and water, sake is often called rice wine – however, it is brewed in a process closer to the preparation of beer rather than solely fermented like grapes for wine.
Sake is derived from rice starch which is converted to sugar – and the sugar is made into alcohol by the addition of yeast.
Cooking with sake
Just as Italians and French use wine to add depth and flavor to many dishes, the Japanese use sake in the same way. Sake can round out the flavors of a dish and has masking properties, making seafood small less “fishy”.
Recipes using sake:
- Sauteed Asparagus With Garlic and Oyster Sauce
- Nasu Dengaku – Miso Glazed Eggplant
- Spaghetti Vongole
- Foil Baked Enoki Mushrooms
- Vegetable Oyakodon 野菜 たっぷり親子丼
While there are many types of sake made for drinking and savoring on their own, a lower quality variation called ryorishu is used exclusively for cooking.
The difference between cooking sake and drinking sake
Ryorishu has salt added, making it unfit to drink – and adds the benefit of allowing it to be sold as a cooking ingredient in shops not licensed to sell alcohol.
But don’t think you have to use cooking sake in the kitchen exclusively. A decent to good drinking sake can really make a dish pop and add a subtle depth of flavor you might not get from cooking sake.
In fact, when it comes to cooking with sake there’s a rule of thumb:
- You can cook with drinking sake.
- However, you should NOT drink cooking sake.
Follow that basic rule, and you should be in good shape.
If you decide to use a drinking sake in a recipe, there’s no need to break the bank. Since you’ll be mixing it with other more assertive ingredients, going for the most expensive bottle may not be the best use of your funds or that high-end sake.
That said, I think it’s always best to use sake you’d be happy to drink on its own. (Same goes for cooking with wine!). When in doubt, ask the staff at your local liquor store.
What does sake taste like?
Since we’re not drinking the cooking sake, the following applies to sake meant to be consumed on its own.
I’ve personally always found sake to typically be smooth and mild with a dry fruitiness around the edges. Most sake tends to be warming without a sharp bite from the alcohol.
And yes, that’s a pretty broad generalization. Just like wine, beer and spirits each have unique flavor properties that can vary greatly, the same can be said for sake.
Where to buy cooking sake
The same salt content that makes ryorishu unfit to drink also means that it can be sold in grocery stores where they may not have a license to sell alcohol.
You should have no trouble tracking it down at most Asian markets. Or pick up cooking sake on Amazon.
How to store cooking sake
Keep your cooking sake in a dark, cool place and it should be good for quite a while.
It should be fine without refrigeration for 3-6 months. I store mine in a closed cabinet with my spices and cooking oils – and haven’t had a bottle go bad on me yet!