Shaoxing wine is an essential cooking ingredient used throughout Chinese cuisine but not always easy to find in local grocery stores. As a passionate home cook interested in expanding my Asian culinary repertoire, I often found myself hitting a roadblock when recipes called for Shaoxing wine because I didn’t have any on hand. After trying a few different options in search of that authentic Shaoxing wine flavor profile, I discovered some workable alternatives that might surprise you. In this post, I will share the what is a good substitute for shaoxing wine and my thoughts on how each one performed so you can feel more prepared the next time this dilemma arises in your own kitchen.
Understanding Shaoxing Wine
Shaoxing wine originated in the Zhejiang province of eastern China, taking its name from the city of Shaoxing. Produced from rice, it has a sherry-like amber color and mildly sweet flavor profile. The wine has a taste described as earthy, with nutty and caramel notes. It is traditionally served warmed, and used for drinking and cooking.
In Chinese cuisine, Shaoxing wine contributes savory umami flavor and also tenderizes meat when marinated or braised. It is commonly used in stir-fries, red cooked dishes, dipping sauces, and clay pot cooking. When Shaoxing wine is heated, the alcohol burns off but the flavor remains infused in the food.
Some key cooking techniques that allow the Shaoxing wine to permeate ingredients and enhance the dish include:
- Marinating meat, seafood, or tofu before stir-frying or deep-frying.
- Deglazing a wok or pan during stir-frying to release browned bits on the bottom.
- Braising or stewing meat in a clay pot or slow cooker.
- Adding to dipping sauces and glazes for meats.
- Using as a flavor booster in place of salt in fried rice dishes.
When cooking with Shaoxing wine, the goal is to achieve a harmonious balance between its sweetness and savoriness. Now let’s explore some common substitutes.
Alcoholic Substitutes for Shaoxing Wine
Dry sherry makes an excellent non-cooking wine substitute for Shaoxing wine. Like Shaoxing wine, dry sherry has nutty, caramelized flavors from oxidation that provides similar depth. Use an equal amount of dry sherry in place of Shaoxing wine. Reduce added salt, as sherry contains sodium.
A Japanese cooking wine made from fermented rice, mirin has a subtle sweetness that approximates Shaoxing wine. Replace Shaoxing wine 1:1 with mirin. To balance the extra sweetness, add a splash of rice vinegar and reduce any sugar in the recipe.
Japanese rice wine can substitute Shaoxing wine, ideally choosing a dry cooking sake. Use a 4:5 ratio of sake to Shaoxing wine to account for sake’s higher alcohol content. Reduce added sugars slightly to balance the sweeter flavor.
Non-Alcoholic and Vegetarian/Vegan Substitutes
Chicken, Vegetable or Mushroom Broth
For each 1 tablespoon of Shaoxing wine, substitute 1 tablespoon of broth and a pinch of sugar to add back sweetness. Opt for low-sodium broths to control saltiness. Vegetarian broths work for plant-based diets.
Non-Alcoholic Homemade Substitute
Combine 3/4 cup water, 1/4 cup sugar, 2 tablespoons rice vinegar and 1 teaspoon sesame oil. Use a 1:1 ratio to replace Shaoxing wine. This replicates the balanced sweet, sour and savory profile.
Health and Dietary Considerations
Shaoxing wine adds negligible alcohol to cooked dishes, as the alcohol cooks off during preparation. However, broths make an ideal substitute for avoiding alcohol entirely.
For low-sodium diets, verify broths meet sodium requirements or use salt-free homemade broths. Diabetic or carb-conscious eaters can reduce added sugars in the homemade Shaoxing wine substitute.
When cooking for those with gluten intolerance, confirm the Shaoxing wine or substitute used is gluten-free, since some are produced from wheat. Always check labels for potential allergens.
Pairing Shaoxing Wine with Ingredients
Shaoxing wine pairs beautifully with ginger, scallions, garlic and other aromatics. It complements meats like chicken, pork, beef and duck. Seafood such as shrimp, scallops and fish work well too.
For vegetarians, Shaoxing wine adds depth to tofu, mushrooms like shiitakes, vegetables such as broccoli and bok choy, and noodles. Rice and fried rice absorb the wine’s flavor nicely.
Whichever substitutes are used, adjust accompanying ingredients to complement the specific flavors added. For example, tone down salty soy sauce when using broths or increase vinegar with sweet mirin.
Recommended Shaoxing Wine Brands
Pagoda Brand and Dynasty are widely available Shaoxing wine brands. For premium quality, look for bottles labeled “For Cooking” like Kikkoman’s aged Shaoxing cooking wine.
One of the most prized Shaoxing wine brands is Double Phoenix, produced in the Shaoxing region. Fermented up to 10 years in huadiao pots, it has complex flavors and aroma. Stock up when traveling in China if possible.
Check labels for additives – some lower quality bottles contain excessive sodium, flavor enhancers and food coloring. As with most ingredients, selecting higher grade Shaoxing wine makes a difference.
Storage and Shelf Life
Unopened Shaoxing wine can be stored similarly to other wines – in a cool, dark place or wine rack. Refrigeration is not needed. Once opened, transfer to an airtight container in the refrigerator where it will keep for several months.
Substitutes like sherry and mirin also have a shelf life of about 6 months after opening when stored properly. Check broth expiration dates for storage guidance.
For homemade Shaoxing substitutes, store in the refrigerator up to a week or divide into ice cube trays for easy freezing.
Impact of Substitutes on Recipes
Since no substitute can exactly replicate Shaoxing wine’s complex flavor, expect some differences in the final dish depending on the substitution. Adjusting accompanying ingredients can help balance flavors.
Broths add a muted background flavor compared to Shaoxing wine’s overt umami. Bolder substitutions like sake and dry sherry will impart their own flavor signatures.
The alcohol, acidity, sweetness and saltiness of the original Shaoxing wine versus the substitute can alter texture and mouthfeel. Always taste as you cook and adjust seasonings accordingly.
When using an equal amount of substitute, dishes may require more or less cooking time. Keep a close eye to prevent overcooking with longer-simmering recipes.
Quantity Adjustments When Substituting
As a general rule of thumb, replace Shaoxing wine 1:1 in a recipe with broths, homemade substitutes or mirin. Use a 3/4 to 1 ratio for stronger-flavored dry sherry and sake.
However, consider the dish and ingredients when determining exact amounts. For more delicate proteins and produce, start with less substitute and add to taste during cooking. In heartier meats that will soak up flavor, the full 1:1 ratio is likely needed.
Popular Recipes and Substitutions
Many classic Chinese recipes rely on Shaoxing wine to provide depth and accent other flavors. Here are some dishes that typically call for Shaoxing wine and how to successfully adapt them:
- General Tso’s Chicken – Substitute 1:1 with homemade Shaoxing wine substitute or mirin, adding extra vinegar and ginger.
- Kung Pao Shrimp – Use 3/4 ratio dry sherry and increase garlic. Reduce soy sauce and sugar slightly.
- Red Cooked Pork Belly – Replace 1:1 with low-sodium chicken broth. Add touch more hoisin and rice vinegar.
- Pepper Steak Stir Fry – Use equal parts vegetable broth and a splash of dry sherry for flavor layering.
- Mapo Tofu – Swap in mirin 1:1 to provide sweet balance to spicy dish.
- Mongolian Beef – Sake adds nice complement to beef and savory sauce. Use 3:4 sake ratio.
The most foolproof method is to use small amounts of a substitute during cooking to taste, and tweak any flavors or seasonings needed. Don’t be afraid to experiment to find what works for each dish and your own palate.
Conclusion: What is a good substitute for shaoxing wine
While no substitute can perfectly mimic the complex umami flavor of Shaoxing wine, there are many ways to approximate it when needed in recipes. Consider the quantity, strength and overall taste profile of the substitute and make adjustments as you cook for the best results. With the guidelines provided, you can still create wonderfully flavorful Chinese cuisine, even without actual Shaoxing wine on hand.
Bobby Kelly is a bartender at Molly Magees, an Irish pub in Mountain View. He’s been working there for two years and has developed a following among the regulars. Bobby is known for his friendly demeanor and great drink specials. He loves interacting with customers and making them feel welcome. When he’s not at work, Bobby enjoys spending time with his friends and family.
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