Itadakimono: Recently I visited my favorite sake brewery, Uehara Sake Brewery in rural Shiga prefecture. Before I left, Mr Uehara, the owner, gave me a bottle of the brewery’s cooking sake, which is not sold in retails stores, but to exclusive, ‘hidden’ restaurants. Most cooking sake contains salt so that it can be sold in grocery stores, but not this one! This is just sake, a foodie’s cooking sake!
What is Ryorishu? Japanese Cooking Sake かくし味 料理酒
Ryorishu: Literally, ‘Cuisine Alcohol’
The brand name, Kakushi-aji has a double meaning, I think. Kakusu means to be hidden or secret. This cooking sake is generally only sold to exclusive restaurants which are sometimes called kakure-ga (hidden, or secret house). In Kyoto, some exclusive restaurants don’t even have a sign. The other meaning could be that as this is very high quality cooking sake, it is a secret ingredient in the dishes that it is used in.
When I visited Uehara Brewery, they treated me to kikizake, or sake tasting and I was also given a taste of their ryorishu. Normally you cannot enjoy drinking ryorishu straight. This was good though, it tasted like a light sake. The color is light golden in color and it tastes better than a lot of drinking sake that I have had. I am especially looking forward to using this sake for nizakana (fish simmered in sweetened soy sauce) because of the delicate taste and absence of salt.
Ryorishu has a low milling ratio, only about 80-90%, so while it wouldn’t have the refined taste for drinking, you get a much bigger and complex taste that can stand up to cooking and other tastes like sugar, soy sauce and so on. I hadn’t realized that before.
Cooking Sake: Kakushi-aji Ryorishu from Uehara Sake Brewery
The label reads, from right to left; 本格 authentic, かくし味 ‘hidden’ taste, 料理酒 cooking sake.
I just tasted this again and compared it to the cooking sake we usually use, which I think is not bad stuff. We buy it at a liquor store and it isn’t cheap. The Uehara Brewery’s is fairly fruity and drinkable. The other has a sake smell to it, but the taste is all salt. I guess on fish, chicken, etc that isn’t real fresh and you need lots of salt anyway, the regular ryorishu is probably ok. You’re going to have to cook the heck out of it anyway! For fresh fish and vegetables, especially cooking ‘Kyoto’ style, the Uehara Brewery ryorishu would leave you much more room to build the flavors of the dish the way you like. For example, emphasize taste and freshness of the ingredients, not salt!
Cheap cooking sake usually has enough salt in it that you don’t need to add any additional salt to the dish that you are cooking. That is quite a bit!
Ryorishu is quite similar to Western white cooking wine, it is of course made with rice, rather than grapes though. It is used to marinades and sauces. In order to sell ryorishu in grocery stores, salt is added, several percent by volume. This is required by law. This is fine for cooking if you want or need a good deal of salt in the dish. We use quite a bit of ryorishu in our home cooking, probably 2 or 3 liters per month. We end up not using very little additional salt. Generally, that is fine, but the quality of the salt that goes into cheap ryorishu is surely not very good, it is likely not natural sea salt. For subtly flavored dishes, you might not want to use salt, so high quality cooking sake like this is desirable.
Miwa on Cooking Sake and Mirin
Both ryorishu and mirin ‘kill’ any bad odors in fish and meat. They also help the flavors of the ingredients uses in the dish to ‘sink in’ to the fish, meat, etc. Of course, it gives a nice smell too.
Mirin is sweet cooking sake. It gives dishes a nice sheen, especially sauteed dishes, because it has glucose sugar in it. (Fructose sugar and cooking sake will not produce the same effect.)
Cooking sake softens meat, brings out the depth of flavor of the ingredients and adds a pleasant fragrance to the dish.