If you’ve done any Chinese cooking,
you’ve probably heard of Shaoxing wine.
So let’s get something out of the way first.
This is a bottle of proper Shaoxing wine that we picked up in Shaoxing,
which’s a small city in the Zhejiang province outside of Hangzhou.
It’s basically the Chinese equivalent of Burgundy –
delicious to drink, delicious to cook with.
This, meanwhile, is Liaojiu-Chinese cooking wine.
同时 这是料酒 中国做菜用的酒
For the most part,
if you’ve been buying stuff labeled ‘ Shaoxing wine’ in English in the West,
this is what you’re actually buying.
While it is roughly based of actual Shaoxing wine,
it’s salted, spiced, and while usually totally fine to cook with.
它是加盐的 加香辛料的 通常用它煮饭会很好吃
It is decidedly not for drinking.
So in our recipe videos,
I know that we should probably just call Liaojiu Shaoxing,
because that’s what everyone else seems to do in English.
But we stubbornly make the distinction,
because Shaoxing is a city that’s proud of its alcohol.
The culture there runs deep.
Wandering around the city you’ll find that
going out to eat there is often as conjoined with wine drinking
as something like Spanish tapas might be.
The city is the epicenter of the rice wine that bears its name.
It’s a much beloved drink there,
and you can trace its popularity all the way back to the Song dynasty.
So then, what is Shaoxing wine?
History and Varieties
Shaoxing wine is a sub-category of Huangjiu rice wine.
Compared to clear rice wines like Chinese Mijiu or Japanese sake,
Huangjiu’s generally a bit sweeter
and made using a mix of wheat and barley Koji rather than purely rice Koji.
Shaoxing wine, meanwhile, can really refer four different types of Huangjiu
that all originated from that area.
First sort is Yuanhongjiu,
which’s dry, and generally the cheapest, most basic form of Shaoxing wine.
这是一种干酒 通常是最便宜 最基本的绍兴酒
Second is Jiafanjiu, semi-dry,
which uses Yuanhongjiu as part of its base, adds more rice,
and has a slightly higher sugar content.
The third kind is Shanniangjiu, semi-sweet,
which uses aged Jiafanjiu as a base;
and finally Xiangxuejiu, which’s the sweetest of the four.
While these last two are sometimes called for in old school Imperial cuisine,
what really interests us as cooks is the second one, Jiafanjiu.
This specific kind of wine became popular to cook with and drink with in Zhejiang cuisine.
In a restaurant in ShaoXing,
it’s generally this Jifanjiu that they’ve got on the table
and next to their wok for cooking.
Now just like how Parma became known for Ham
and San Marzano for Tomatoes,
chefs tend to seek out the places that make the best stuff.
The whole region around Hangzhou was historically renowned for rice production,
and Shaoxing’s position along the old grand canal
allowed this specific rice wine -the Jiafanjiu- to spread.
Culminating in the old saying “ Yuejiu xing Tianxia ”,
Shaoxing wine reaches everywhere under heaven.
Expensive aged varieties would get packed in specific jars for shipping,
and called “ Huadiao ”,
the name referring the artful engravings on the jugs.
Nowadays though, basically any kind of Shaoxing-style Jiafanjiu
is referred to in China as Huadiao, and abroad as Shaoxing.
Among cooking wines in China,
it’s generally the nicer sort
and what we’ve grown to usually use.
Liaojiu, meanwhile, ferments huangjiu for only twenty days or so,
then adds ethanol, and of course a whole bunch of salt.
And while that might sound damning,
it honestly usually works just fine.
And, you know, you can’t argue with the price.
But regardless which wine you choose,
why do they seem to be used so often?
Uses When Cooking
So right, use number one – balancing funk.
所以 使用方法一 去除异味
See, there’s three categories of ‘unpleasant odors’ in Chinese cooking:
比如 在中餐烹饪中 有三种讨厌的味道：
shanwei, which’s sort of like gaminess;
xingwei, or fishiness;
and saowei, which’s the poultry equivalent.
Unlike in English though
where ‘gamey’ is thought of as kind of a binary thing,
‘ Shanwei ’ can encompass things that’re very shan like mutton
to things that’re a little shan like pork.
Ditto with the other flavors,
fish that’ve been caught and killed via suffocation can get pretty fishy,
but in China, an egg is also sometimes conceptualized as a little fishy.
So Chinese cooking’s often a game
of counteracting and balancing those flavors.
And for whatever reason,
this kind of wine seems to do a really good job with funk in general.
Ever wonder how some people can enjoy straight up unfried stinky tofu?
Try chasing that stinky tofu with a good Shaoxing wine.
I don’t know why, but the flavors really really work together.
So that’s why you’ll see Shaoxing wine so much in Chinese marinades.
It’s less for texture, and more for taste.
So while any of these Huangjiu rice wines are often preferred,
you can swap for Mijiu rice wine, a japanese sake, a cheap bourbon
some dry white wine, just use your own judgment.
Use number two: for use while stir-frying.
See, a huge misconception about stir-frying is
that it should just be max flame, all the time.
Like in all cuisines, heat control is fundamental to Chinese cooking.
And there’s three ways to control the heat in a wok:
first, obviously controlling the strength of the flame itself;
首先 很明显 控制火焰本身的强度
second, controlling the distance the wok is from the flame,
and third, by adding more stuff to the wok, which lowers the temperature.
第三 向锅里填加更多东西 可以降低温度
So a common move is to take some wine,
pour it over a spatula and around the sides of the wok,
to let it sizzle and basically immediately reduce away.
This lowers the temperature,
so often we like to swirl it in right after we’re done frying the aromatics.
This wine’s used because it adds a nice subtle fragrance,
but honestly, any liquid would do the job.
Use number three: preserved or drunken dishes.
For this use, we generally recommend you use a nicer sort
and skip the liaojiu,
because the flavor of the wine itself’s more fundamental to the dish.
A good example’s drunken chicken, Zuiji,
where poached chicken sits in a Shaoxing wine-based brine
for at least overnight but even up to a week.
You’ll see it too in stuff like Cantonese lushui master stocks,
where the alcohol lends a nice flavor but also helps everything keep.
在食物里 酒精提供了好味道 且利于食物贮存
So if you’re abroad,
for these dishes try to find something that says it’s Huadiao,
though you’ll probably need to settle for something salted
because of stupid American alcohol laws.
So Shaooxing is a great charming little town
although a little bit on the touristy side
but the food is great, the wine is great,
so if you ever find yourself in Shanghai area,
definitely check it out.
So check out the Reddit link in the description box for a detailed discussion,
or you can check out our Instagram for some travel pictures,
and as always,
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If you’ve done any Chinese cooking,