Michiu and me
The bottle on the right is Shaoxing, a Chinese cooking wine (named for the town in which it is produced) made of fermented glutinous rice. I use it all the time in Chinese dishes and I also sub it for sherry when I don't have sherry, which is practically always. My problem with cooking with sherry is that if there's sherry in the house I'll drink it and there will be none left to cook with. I don't advise drinking Asian market Shaoxing wine, though--at least not this common brand, which is strictly for cooking.
The bottle on the left is michiu, also a Chinese rice wine. I saw it at the Asian Mart downtown last week and picked up the bottle to ask the proprietor what it's like. Neither he nor his wife, who it seems does the store's ordering, had any idea. They're Filipino and they don't cook with Chinese rice wine. They do, however, stock balut, which I was too skittish to buy. But the total lack of information about michiu compelled me to plunk down my $3.45.
When I got home I checked all germane reference volumes, including Davidson's Oxford Companion to Food, Lo's Chinese Food: An Introduction to One of the World's Great Cuisines, and Herbst's New Food Lover's Companion (2nd ed.). Nothing. I searched the web for michiu data and all I found were retail sites with no informative descriptions of the product. (To be fair, the site asiafoods.com seems to be down and its Google results suggested that its info might be descriptive.) When I searched Amazon's Gourmet Food store, the first result was something called 3600 Calorie ER bar, which scared me silly. Here's how Amazon sells it: "Be prepared for an emergency or just a hiking trip." They make the hike sound like so much fun, but I'll pass, thanks.
My searching did turn up a recipe for homemade rice wine. "Truly delicious," promises the recipe. If you have a kilo of glutinous rice, some yeast, and a month of patience, by all means give it a try and report back. I also found this fantastic site about Shaoxing wine in Chinese culture.
Before cooking with michiu this evening I did a taste test, michiu vs. Shaoxing. I dipped my index finger in each little bowl and licked it clean. In between licks I munched a saltine. Shaoxing is lower in alcohol and darker in color. It tastes like sherry. Michiu is pretty dry and more alcoholic. It tastes more like sake--no surprise, really.
This is shrimp with peppers. I made it up. First I marinated the shrimp in salt, sugar, and white pepper for about half an hour. It just sat on the counter. I cut half a red and half a green pepper into triangle-like shapes and sauted them in very hot peanut oil, then put them aside. I mixed the shrimp with some corn starch and sauted them in some more very hot peanut oil, then added them to the peppers. In some more very hot peanut oil I cooked garlic and scallions for just a few seconds, then returned the peppers and shrimp to the very hot pan. To finish it off I poured in my sauce: michiu (about a tablespoon), oyster sauce (same), soy sauce (same), chicken stock (two or three tbs), salt (pinch), chile oil (about a tsp), sugar (tbs), corn starch (tsp), a little water. I stirred for a few seconds, waited for the sauce to reduce just a little and coat the veggies and shrimp. And we ate it over white rice.
One would not taste this dish and say, Aha, michiu! It's not that kind of ingredient. But dinner was tasty, and that's in part to the rice wine's credit.