While there are many kinds of Chinese cooking wines, this discussion focuses on two very important rice wines and how to use them in Chinese and Taiwanese cooking.
Mijiu (米酒) is a rice wine made from the fermentation of sticky/glutinous rice. Its color should be as clear as water and taste a little bit spicy. Some rice wines taste a bit sweet but it really depends on how it is made. Most of the cooking rice wines sold in Chinese supermarkets don’t taste sweet.
Both Chinese and Taiwanese people use this type of rice wine almost on a daily basis. Below are some examples of how to use rice wine in cooking:
- Stir-Fried Vegetables: Stir-fry vegetables usually means green vegetables like cabbage, spring greens, and spinach. Some people like to add a couple drops of rice wine when they stir-fry the vegetables because it enhances not only the flavor of the vegetable but also gives it a special fragrance.
- Stews and Slow-Cooking: People like to use huge amounts of rice wine when they cook braised pork belly known as Hongshao rou (紅燒肉). Some chefs, in fact, use no water in their stews or slow-cooked meats, only rice wine.
- Desserts: A popular Taiwanese dessert is sweet rice soup with dried longan. Rice wine is poured into a bowl and then the dessert is added to enhance the flavor and add a special aroma to the soup. Rice wine also is used in sweet tangyuan soup for the same reason.
- Soups: Rice wine is a very important ingredient for Taiwanese ginger and sesame chicken soup (麻油雞). Sometimes people won’t even put a single drop of water in the dish but , instead, they use a lot of rice wine to cook this dish. Some Chinese and Taiwanese chefs will add rice wine in the soup bowl before they serve the soup.
Shaoxing Rice wine (紹興酒), also known as shaohing, shaoshing or shaoxing wine, is another type of fermented rice wine. It originates from Shaoxing, Zhejiang province. Shaoxing rice wine is brown in color and the flavor is much stronger than mijiu rice wine but sweeter.
Because of Shaoxing's strong flavor, it's not recommended for everyday cooking because it will mask the flavor of the other ingredients. It does, however, go well with drunken chicken, drunken prawns, dongpo pork and other slow-cooked meat dishes.
Shaoxing wine has many different variations and one of these is called nu'er hong (女兒紅). Every family in Shaoxing will make Shaoxing wine when their daughter is 1 month old and bury it in the ground until the day of their daughter’s wedding when they open it and drink it to celebrate.
Nu'er means "daughter" in Chinese and hong means "red." Red is a lucky color in both the Chinese and Taiwanese cultures and it adds a special significance to this celebratory wine.