Photo/Illutration Japanese amberjack teriyaki (Photo by Masahiro Goda)

Editor’s note: The theme of Gohan Lab is to help people make simple, tasty “gohan” (meals).

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The second entry in our series on “seasonings that add sweetness” focuses on mirin.

We'll turn “buri” (Japanese amberjack) into a teriyaki dish by making the most of mirin's rounded and deeply sweet flavor.

The appetizing glaze is characteristic of dishes that incorporate sweet mirin sake.

After we coat the Japanese amberjack with soy sauce, we'll dust it with "katakuriko" starch and cook it on low heat. The soy sauce will give it a fine brown color, while the starch will thicken the sauce. 

As you follow the recipe, you'll understand the reasoning behind the extra steps in the cooking process.

Mirin can also reduce the distinct smell of fish and meat. It's not a bad idea to substitute chicken for fish and cook it in the same way. As chicken thighs due to their skin and fat are thicker and take longer to cook, a key to having them turn out well is to pan-fry them slowly.

“Since the juice from the meat will flow out if the chicken is cut right after cooking, wait about two minutes before cutting,” says Akiko Watanabe, who oversaw the recipe's cooking aspect.

Whether you're making Japanese amberjack or chicken, your dish will look like it was prepared by a pro if you set a bit of sauce aside when reducing and pour it on top at the final stage.


Mirin is made by saccharifying and aging rice “koji” (rice fermented with koji mold), sticky rice and shochu liquor over about three months, says Hiroshi Tachi, professor emeritus at the Tokyo University of Agriculture, who oversaw the recipe's cookery science aspect.

The expert in zymurgy, an area of chemistry that specializes in the study of fermentation, adds that mirin has an alcohol content of about 14 percent.

Mirin-style seasoning, in contrast, which is made in a short time by adding aminic and organic acids, among ingredients, to a sugar solution, has less than 1 percent.

To distinguish between the two, mirin is sold as “hon-mirin” (literally, true mirin). True mirin is recommended when you wish to reduce odor in a dish you're making.

Mirin was consumed as an alcoholic beverage in Japan until the Edo Period (1603-1867), when people began using it as a seasoning.

During World War II, it was regarded as a luxury item and its production was banned. Mirin is said to have become widely available around 1955.


(Supervised by Akiko Watanabe in the cooking aspect and Hiroshi Tachi in the cookery science aspect)

* Ingredients (Serve two)

2 Japanese amberjack (buri) fillets, base seasoning for fish (1/2 tsp soy sauce), some katakuriko starch, 1 tsp oil, seasonings (1 Tbsp soy sauce, 3 Tbsp mirin)

About 310 kcal and 1.5 grams salt per portion

Tips on making Japanese amberjack teriyaki (Video by Masahiro Goda)

1. Coat fish with soy sauce as base seasoning and leave it for 5 minutes. Mix seasonings.

PHOTO A: Pat lightly after dusting fish with katakuriko starch. Cleaning up will be easy if this is done on paper that can be thrown away. (Photo by Masahiro Goda)

2. Pat fish dry with kitchen paper, thinly dust with katakuriko starch (PHOTO A).

3. Pour oil in frying pan and turn on stove. Lay fillets skin side down. Cover pan with lid and cook about 3 minutes on low heat. Turn when golden. Cover pan with lid and cook for 3 to 4 minutes until done.

PHOTO B: The sauce will not coat the fillets nicely if there is excess oil. Wipe off with kitchen paper before adding the seasonings. (Photo by Masahiro Goda)

4. Move fillets to one side in pan and wipe off oil (PHOTO B). Add seasonings and reduce on medium heat until sauce thickens. Turn fillets midway and allow sauce to coat both sides (PHOTO C).

PHOTO C: Be careful not to burn the fish while reducing the sauce. You can set aside some sauce and pour it on the fish after it is served on a plate. (Photo by Masahiro Goda)

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Akiko Watanabe is a cooking expert specializing in Japanese cuisine.

Hiroshi Tachi is an expert in zymurgy and professor emeritus at the Tokyo University of Agriculture.


Teriyaki chicken (Serves two)

Teriyaki chicken (Photo by Masahiro Goda)

Prick holes all over 1 chicken thigh with fork, coat with 1/2 tsp soy sauce as base seasoning and leave for 5 minutes.

Pat chicken dry and thinly dust with katakuriko starch. Pour oil in frying pan on heat and place chicken skin side down.

Place lid and cook over low heat for 5 to 6 minutes. When golden, turn, place lid and cook until done on low heat for 5 to 6 minutes.

Push chicken to a side and wipe off oil. Mix 1 Tbsp soy sauce and 3 Tbsp mirin.

Add to pan, bring to a boil and reduce until sauce thickens. Turn chicken midway and let sauce coat both sides.


The Asahi Shimbun

When foodstuffs that emit strong odors are heated with mirin, the odor cooks out with the alcohol in the mirin.

Another reason for the removal of odor is the chemical reaction between the alpha-dicarbonyl compound in the mirin and the component of the odor.

It's been confirmed that after being heated with mirin, methylamine, a leading example of a fish odor component, significantly decreases.

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From The Asahi Shimbun’s Gohan Lab column