The thought to mention this has occurred to me last weekend, when two of my friends were visiting and I was preparing a king prawn fried rice for dinner. Marty had offered to help while I ran madly back and forth along my workspace, and I offhandedly told him to take the bottle of mirin off the counter, and drench the prawns in their bowl with it while I finished the rest of the prep.
Not two minutes later, I told him to dump the prawns into a colander to drain the mirin off them, and he, curious about the short time those spent in the sake, wondered what had been the point of it (clearly not marinating). And so it occurred to me, that despite having used the technique, I have never heard mention of it either in cooking shows, from people other than the one who taught it to me (thanks, Kae!), nor in any cookbooks I’ve read (or at least I have not noticed it in them if it was there). That’s not to say it is totally unknown (apparently the wikipedia page I linked does mention it!), but it is not well enough known to the general public for my taste, so – here it is.
The reason, and subsequent piece of advice, is simple. Seafood and fish can sometimes have a “fishy” smell, even if they are rather fresh (though less pronounced when the seafood is very fresh, the hint of odour can still be there). A lot of people cannot stand this odour, and thus avoid seafood (which is not only good for you, but is also a fantastic thing to eat!), and they do not have to. A simple, short rinse in mirin (or any similar type of alcohol), or dry white wine (if you do not like the flavour of mirin), completely neutralises and removes the unpleasant smell, without affecting the flavour of seafood significantly (and not at all in any negative way). If none of the wine/mirin flavour is desired in the dish, the seafood can be subsequently lightly rinsed in cold water (something I never personally have done myself). Similarly, if making a seafood soup or stew, addition of a small amount of white wine (half a cup or so) to the soup pot has the same effect.
So, if you like the idea of eating things which swim (or sit around underwater in their shells, or whatever) instead of walking the earth, but don’t like the “fishy” smell, give them a boozy bath before cooking. The difference it makes is really amazing!
NOTE: about using mirin – it does have a lot of sugar in it, which makes me treat it very carefully (my opinions of sugar as food are less than flattering). However, if you are concerned about sugar (and are sugar sensitive, diabetic or have a hypoglycemic tendency), white wine of most non-sweet varieties, or dry sake can substitute just as well if not better for this purpose.