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Sake is Japanese alcohol beverage made of rice. It adds flavour to the foods, and help removing the smell from animal meats and seafoods.
Is there any substitute of Sake?
料理酒 (Ryorishu / Cooking Sake) is what most Japanese use for cooking.
It's lot cheaper than Good quality of Sake.
But still do great job.
This is exactly same as the difference between Cooking wine and expensive wines.
It would be great if you can use expensive ones, but Ryorishu is good enough unless you work for fine dinings.
Shaoxing wine (Chinese wine) could be the replacement for some cases, but it depends on the dishes.
Shaoxing wine is also made of rice, but it has characteristic flavour.
But the taste of sake is quite neutral.
So if you are cooking Chinese influence dishes (ex: Fried rice, Stir-fried noodle, etc), Shaoxing wine is a good substitute.
But if you are cooking traditional Japanese dishes especially the slow cooking dishes, You have to use sake, or just skip it.
Otherwise the taste will be weird.
If you skip sake, but need water content for the recipe, use water.
In the CHEF'S LABO videos, shaoxing wine is always shown on the display when it can be the substitute for sake.
Why Sake add flavour to foods?
Sake is a brewed alcohol (similar to beer and wine), but the main ingredients is fermented rice.
There are many processes to make Sake which takes about few months to years.
And that makes all the umami and flavour.
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