Shaoxing wine is probably used more than any other ingredient you’ve never heard of here and is essential for true Chinese Cuisine. If you’ve ever made Chinese food at home and wished it tasted as good as the takeout you get, Shaoxing wine might be the answer.
Aside from being one of the 10 Essential Chinese Pantry Ingredients, Shaoxing wine is called for in a wide variety of our recipes, from stir-fries to dumplings and wontons.
However, I’m not familiar with this Shaoxing wine. In which store can I find it? Is there anything else that can be used instead of it? In this short piece, we’ll discuss that and more.
WHAT IS SHAOXING WINE?
Shaoxing wine, also known as shàoxīng jiǔ, is a variety of Chinese rice wine produced in Zhejiang Province. It’s crucial to many recipes and will help you achieve that restaurant-quality flavor at home.
Shaoxing Wine is among the oldest varieties of rice wine in China, with references to it dating back more than two thousand years. For its creation, rice, water, and a trace amount of wheat (notice that it does contain wheat, therefore it is not gluten-free) are fermented. See the alternatives listed at the conclusion of the post if you need gluten-free options. It’s clear, dark amber in color, and has a little sweetness and floral scent.
Used as a beverage, aged Shaoxing wine is typically served warm. To get around the alcohol tax and make it suitable for sale in regular grocery shops, we use cheap Shaoxing wine for cooking instead of the better stuff.
Different from clear rice cooking wine, or mji, this amber-colored rice wine has a richer and more nuanced flavor. The difference between using salt and light soy sauce is analogous to the difference between using rice wine and Shaoxing wine. One has a more concentrated salty taste, while the other provides a fuller one.
SUGGESTED NEW NAMES & ALTERNATIVE SPELLINGS
One of the names for Shaoxing wine is hua diao wine (huādiāo jiǔ), which means “carved flower wine” and refers to the floral motif that was traditionally carved into the clay jars used to age the wine.
This alias can alternatively be written as “hua tiao chiew.”
A different moniker you could see on bottles is Chia Fan wine. Quite like hua diao wine, it has a comparable flavor and aroma. Add more rice to the brewing process while creating these Shaoxing wines, hence the name “chia fan,” which translates to “add rice.”
Shao xing wine, sometimes spelled “shaohsing wine,” is another common variation. It doesn’t matter which one you choose, because they’re all just cooking wine.
HOW IS IT USED?
Shaoxing wine, like wine used in Western cooking, enhances the complexity and depth of flavors. We use it as a marinade for meats, a flavoring agent in wonton or dumpling fillings, to deglaze the wok and enhance the flavor of stir-fries, and as a seasoning in sauces and braises. To be honest, we’d say that Shaoxing wine is used in the vast majority of our savory dishes.
To properly enjoy hong shao or red-cooked dishes like Chinese Braised Fish (Hong Shao Yu) or Shanghai-Style Braised Pork Belly, Shaoxing Wine is a must (Hong Shao Rou). Braised meals (like our braised fish) typically feature it in bigger proportions than marinades or stir-fries (where it typically occurs in smaller amounts, like a tablespoon or two).
It is also the main ingredient of a popular cold dish known simply as “Drunken Chicken,” in which the chicken is fried and then marinated in a brine of Shaoxing wine and other ingredients. Fish and shellfish, like shrimp and crab, benefit from the “drunk” brining process just as much as meat.
Again, there are drinking-quality varieties of Shaoxing wine manufactured (often served warm), but in the United States, salt is added to the wine to circumvent alcohol taxes and make it legal for sale in stores that do not carry ordinary wine or liquor. Wine sold in most supermarkets is intended for cooking, therefore its taste is salty and unpleasant.
BUYING & STORING
A wide variety of Shaoxing wines are available at most Chinese supermarkets. The majority of these items are red in color and packaged in red bottles.
Purchase, give it a try, and look elsewhere if you’re not completely satisfied. Since we go through so much, we frequently make trips to the supermarket to stock up on both the smaller bottle and the gallon jugs. It’s cheap and can be stored for a long time.
Simple storage requires a dark, cool location and a tight seal. Our testing shows that it can survive up to 6 months when stored in a cool, dry place. If you don’t use it often, refrigerate it.
When it comes to wine quality, the rule of thumb is that more money means better wine (less briny, more flavor). Dishes like Chinese Drunken Chicken rely heavily on the flavor of the wine you use, therefore it’s best to choose a high-quality hua diao Shaoxing.
OPTIONS OTHER THAN SHAOXING WINE
The query “Is there an alternative for the Shaoxing wine?” is among the most frequently asked on the blog.
You will use it in the vast majority of the foods you cook, and its flavor makes all the difference, therefore we highly recommend you get to your nearest Chinese market and pick up a bottle.
However, dry-cooking sherry, which can be found in grocery store, is the most popular alternative we recommend if you absolutely cannot locate it or if you want a quick swap for a one-time cooking experiment.
In its place, you might use any other Chinese rice wine you happen to have lying around. Japanese and Korean wines such as soju and sake can stand in for regular wine in small doses. As a last resort, you can use mirin, a more widely available Japanese rice wine flavoring, but we don’t recommend it. It’s important to note that using mirin instead of Shaoxing wine will change the flavor of the dish significantly, and you should reduce the amount of sugar recommended in the recipe.
BEVERAGE SUBSTITUTE FOR SHAOXING WINE THAT DOESN’T CONTAIN ALCOHOL
During the high-heat cooking phase (in the case of stir-fries) or the protracted cooking period (for other dishes), most of the alcohol in the wine cooks out (in the case of braises).
However, if you’re unable to consume alcohol due to health, religious, or personal reasons, chicken, mushroom, or vegetable stock is a great alternative in applications such as stir-fry or sauce (in amounts equal to or less than 2 tablespoons).
You might also give white wine or beer that isn’t intended to have any alcohol in it a try.
Whenever Shaoxing wine is called for in a recipe, but just a small amount is called for, such as less than a tablespoon, you can safely leave it out.
Whether or not you can make other replacements is situational, but you can always ask us in the comments for a specific recipe!
SHAOXING WINE SUBSTITUTES:
- Any Chinese rice wine
- Dry cooking sherry
- Korean rice wine
NON-ALCOHOLIC SHAOXING WINE SUBSTITUTES:
- Chicken stock
- Pork stock
- Beef stock
- Mushroom stock
- Vegetable stock
- Non-alcoholic beer
- Non-alcoholic white wine
- As long as the amount of Shaoxing wine in the recipe is less than 2 tablespoons, you can use any of the above alternatives in place of it. Using mirin in a recipe means reducing the amount of sugar called for.
- Dry coking sherry and other Chinese rice wines (like mi jiu) are the closest Western equivalents.