Update: Recipe updated in July 2012
In my last post, I talked about the delicious char-grilled unagi (eel) I had at an unagi specialty restaurant in Yokohama during my Japan trip. For those of you who are not as familiar with Japanese cuisine, you might be thinking we are barbaric eaters! Well, to be honest with you, I grew up eating eels without feeling it was a foreign ingredient. When unagi was served, it always looked like a typical fish fillet to me… don’t you agree as well looking at the picture above?
I was surprised when I found out what eels actually looked like in an aquarium at a young age. It was hard to connect the dots between the snake looking fish in the water and “the fish” I was eating, and I was shocked at myself that I actually liked eating them. For better or for worse, that experience did not stop me enjoying unagi all these years. The combination of delicious warm rice and glistering sweet caramel-like unagi sauce (we call it “unagi no tare”) over the perfectly grilled unagi is simply irresistible.
Unagi sushi are pretty popular and available at most sushi restaurants, but the satisfaction from eating just-grilled unagi on top of warm rice is completely different and can not be compared. Just aroma of the sauce is enough to make my mouth water. If you are planning to visit Japan, I hope you will find a good unagi restaurant and give it a try.
Sometimes my local Japanese supermarket sells imported unagi from Japan. They are usually more expensive between $18-$25 USD each (Frozen unagi from other countries are usually around $9 USD each.). If you are able to find Japanese unagi in your local market, you are in for a real treat! The unagi can be kept frozen until you’re ready to enjoy since they are sealed in in vacuum-sealed package. This unagi is from Kagoshima, Japan.
Most Japanese don’t buy a live eel to cook at home. We buy pre-grilled unagi or ones that are grilled and vacuum-packed.
This style of cooking is called kabayaki (蒲焼), similar to Teriyaki. It’s a very typical way to prepare unagi but other fish that can be prepared the same way as well. Basically the fish is split down the back (or belly), gutted and boned, butterflied, cut into square fillets, skewered, and dipped in a sweet soy sauce based sauce before broiled on a charcoal grill. In the Tokyo region, the skewered eel is first broiled without the sauce, and we call it Shirayaki (白焼き). Then the unagi are steamed, before being dipped in the sauce and grilled again.
When unagi is served in a bowl like above, it’s called Unadon (鰻丼) but when it’s served in a fancy square lacquer box, it is called Unaju (鰻重) because the tiered laquaured boxes are called jubako (重箱).
Lastly I want to mention the great nutritious benefit of eating unagi. Unagi is rich in vitamins A and E, and Omega-3 fatty acids. From Edo Period (1600-1850), we have a tradition to eat unagi on a particular mid-summer day called doyō-no ushi-no-hi (土用の丑の日) in order to gain stamina from the hot summer heat.
Today I will share how to prepare Unagi Don (Unadon) using a vacuumed-pack unagi along with homemade unagi sauce. You can buy premade Unagi Sauce from a Japanese (or Asian) market, but you can easily make it at home and this sauce recipe is delicious! I even use it for Yaki Onigiri (Grilled Rice Balls) if I have any leftover sauce.
For re-heating unagi, you can use a frying pan, but I recommend you to use the oven broiler. If you don’t have an oven, you can use an oven toaster as well. Now let’s start cooking!
- 2 fillets of whole Unagi (eel)
- Sansho (toppings)
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 1/4 cup mirin
- 2 1/2 Tbsp. sugar
- 1 1/2 Tbsp. sake
- Start making Unagi Sauce. Combine mirin and sake in a small saucepan and bring it to a boil to evaporate alcohol.
- Add sugar and stir until sugar is completely dissolved. Then add soy sauce and bring it to a boil. Then reduce heat and continue cooking on simmer for 20 minutes. Turn off the heat to cool it down.
- Cut Unagi in half (or maybe third) to fit inside your serving bowls. Line the baking sheet with aluminum foil and brush oil lightly (I use spray oil). Place unagi on top.
- WITHOUT preheat, put the baking sheet in the MIDDLE rack of your oven, and broil on high for 7 minutes (no need to flip).
- After 7 minutes or so, take it out and brush the Unagi Sauce over.
- Continue to broil for another 30 seconds to 60 seconds until you see bubbles on top of Unagi.
- Serve rice in a bowl and pour or brush Unagi Sauce on the rice. Serve Unagi on top of rice and pour/brush more Unagi Sauce. Serve immediately. You can also sprinkle some Sansho.
*I updated the sauce recipe to 1/3 of my original recipe for just 2 fillets. I usually make unagi sauce with the following recipe and use it whenever I need instead of making it in small portion each time. You can store the sauce in the refrigerator.
My original recipe: 3/4 cup soy sauce, 3/4 cup mirin, 1/2 cup (4.4oz/125g) sugar, 1/4 cup sake.
The step-by-step pictures above show my original recipe portion.