The addition of Shaoxing wine is crucial for achieving an authentic taste in Chinese cooking. Don’t miss out on this important ingredient when cooking Chinese food at home.
Shaoxing wine is a staple in many of our recipes, from dumplings to wontons, and it is also one of the 10 Essential Chinese Pantry Ingredients we have compiled for you.
The question remains, however, what exactly is Shaoxing wine? What stores carry it, exactly? Does it have any equivalents, if any? In this short article, we’ll discuss that and more.
Exactly What is Shaoxing Wine?
Shaoxing wine, also known as shàoxng ji, is a variety of rice wine produced in the city of Shaoxing in the Chinese province of Zhejiang. It’s essential to many dishes and will give them that restaurant-quality flavor you’ve been craving but haven’t been able to achieve at home.
Shaoxing Wine is one of the oldest varieties of rice wine in China, with references to it dating back more than 2000 years. Rice, water, and a trace amount of wheat (notice that it does contain wheat, so it is not gluten-free) are fermented to create this product. It’s not cloudy but has a deep amber color and a subtle sweetness and floral aroma.
You can drink aged Shaoxing wine, which tastes best when warm. However, we use Shaoxing wine of lower quality with added salt for cooking in order to 1) avoid an alcohol tax and 2) allow it to be sold in regular grocery stores.
Rice wine with an amber hue and a more complex flavor than the clear rice cooking wine known as mji. The difference between using salt and using light soy sauce is analogous to the difference between using rice wine and Shaoxing wine. One has a more pronounced saltiness, while the other contributes a deeper taste.
We traveled to Shaoxing, China, to investigate the country’s historic viniculture.
The flower design carved into the clay jars used to store and age Shaoxing wine prompted another name: hua diao wine (hudio ji), which translates to “carved flower wine.”
A different way to spell this is “hua tiao chiew” (parts of the Wade-Giles romanization system for Chinese that date back to the 19th century)
Some bottles may also be labeled Chia Fan wine (ji fàn ji). It tastes very much like hua diao wine. The term “chia fan,” which translates to “add rice,” refers to increasing the amount of rice used in the brewing process of these particular Shaoxing wines.
Shao xing wine or shaohsing wine are two other possible spellings. Each is an identical variety of wine used in the kitchen.
How Does It Work?
Shaoxing wine is used in Chinese cooking for the same reason. Western wine is used: to add nuance and complexity to the dish. We use it to flavor sauces and braises, as well as to deglaze our wok and add flavor to stir-fries, marinades, and wonton or dumpling fillings. Shaoxing wine is used in most of our savory dishes.
For hong shao or red-cooked dishes, such as Chinese Braised Fish (Hong Shao Yu) or Shanghai-style Braised pork belly, Shaoxing Wine is an absolute must (Hong Shao Rou). The amount used in a marinade or stir-fry is typically only a tablespoon or two, while it can reach up to three quarters of a cup in a braised dish (like in our braised fish recipe).
Chicken cooked in a brine of Shaoxing wine and other seasonings is the star of a popular cold appetizer known simply as “Drunken Chicken.” Seafood like shrimp and crab can also benefit from the “drunk” brining method.
There are also varieties of Shaoxing wine (typically served warm), but in the United States, salt is added to the wine to circumvent alcohol taxes and allow it to be sold in stores where regular wine/liquor is not allowed to be sold. Therefore, most grocery stores sell wine primarily for cooking purposes, and this wine has a salty taste that makes it unpleasant to drink.
Buying and Storage
Wine from Shaoxing is widely available in Chinese supermarkets, with many brands. Typically, they are housed in red bottles (one brand has created the design, and others followed suit).
To sum up, it’s best to buy, try out, and then switch if you’re not satisfied. Since we go through it so quickly, we frequently make trips to the supermarket to pick up the gallon jugs and the standard-sized bottles we’ll need to refill the smaller bottle. It’s inexpensive and has a long shelf life in the pantry.
Keep it sealed and store it in a cool, dark place. Our testing shows that it can survive up to 6 months when stored in a cool, dry place. To extend its shelf life, refrigerate it if you don’t use it frequently.
Regarding cost, the rule of thumb is that more money buys a wine of higher quality (less salty, more flavor). When the flavor of the wine is pivotal, as in Chinese Drunken Chicken, use a better quality hua diao Shaoxing wine.
Alternatives for Shaoxing Wine
The question, “Is there a substitute for the Shaoxing wine?” frequently appears among the comments and emails we receive.
You’ll use it in most of the dishes you cook, and its flavor makes all the difference, so head to your local Chinese market and pick up a bottle (you can also buy it online, but it’ll cost you double or triple the price).
If you cannot track it down or need a quick replacement for a one-off cooking experiment, dry-cooking sherry is a great alternative and can be found in almost any grocery store.
A different Chinese rice wine could be used in its place if you don’t have any on hand. A small amount of Japanese or Korean wine, such as soju or sake, can be used as a substitute. To get by, you can use mirin, a more widely available Japanese rice wine seasoning, but we recommend it only if necessary. To avoid a dish that doesn’t taste like it was made with authentic Chinese ingredients, you can substitute mirin for Shaoxing wine and reduce the sugar in the recipe by half.
Replacement for Shaoxing Wine That Doesn’t Contain Alcohol
During the high-heat cooking process (in the case of stir-fries) or the long cooking process (for other dishes), most of the alcohol in the wine cooks off (in the case of braises).
However, if you cannot consume alcohol for medical, 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).
Alternatively, you could try a non-alcoholic beer or white wine, which may still contain traces of alcohol.
You can safely omit the Shaoxing wine from any recipes called for in quantities of less than 1 tablespoon.
Whether or not you can make other substitutions is situational, but you can always ask us in the comments for a specific recipe!