Cooking sake is commonly used to give Japanese cuisine its unique and complex flavor. This dry cooking wine comes in a variety of grades and is easy to find in Asian markets, as well as online shops and some Asian food sections in traditional grocery stores. However, if you are unable to drink alcohol or simply run out while preparing a meal, some common substitutes can stand in when needed to lend some flavor and provide you with an authentic taste.
Though still alcoholic, mirin is a suitable substitute for sake in a recipe and will help to retain much of the intended flavor. Essentially a sweetened rice wine, mirin can be substituted equally in a recipe for sake, though it will impart a slight sweetness to the finished dish. If any added sugar is necessary in the recipe, skip it if you substitute mirin so that you do not over-sweeten the dish. This is the closest substitute for sake and if alcohol is not a problem, choose mirin for your dish. Find mirin in Asian markets or in the Asian section of major grocery stores.
Sweet Sherry or Chinese Shiaoxing Wine
These common cooking wines are both sweetened so you will want to omit additional added sugar when substituting with these. Cooking sherry is found in most grocery stores, while Chinese shiaoxing wine can be found at Asian markets and the Asian-food section of major grocery stores. Both types of cooking wine can be substituted in equal proportion to the amount of sake called for in a recipe to marinate your meat or vegetables.
White Grape Juice and Lemon Zest
White grape juice is another viable substitute for sake and is non-alcoholic. Add a pinch lemon zest to each tablespoon of white grape juice substituted to provide a little tang and better match the complexity of sake. Substitute white grape juice mixed with lemon zest in equal proportion for the sake called for in your recipe. This is the best substitute for sake in a marinade for those individuals that cannot have any alcohol in their diets.
Skip the Sake
If you must avoid alcohol for health or religious reasons, one easy solution is to just skip it altogether. To create a marinade that has a similar consistency, add the same amount of water in exchange for the sake called for in the recipe. While this does not add the same flavor, it does ensure that your meat or vegetables are well-coated with the marinade and able to absorb the other flavors that make it up.