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Japan Tours and Life Style

Homemade Unagi Sauce

In Japan, there is a special sauce made for many items in Japanese cuisine. Eel Sauce, technically known as Unagi Sauce, is a very robust and thick sauce. Unagi is considered to be the one sauce that creates best sellers in many Japanese restaurants. Foods that are drizzled with this Eel Sauce, shine with flavor. The taste of the food is enhanced as it should be. You do not want a sauce that is going to overpower the taste of the dish you create.

Unagi Sauce is not actually made from eels. It is the sauce that is drizzled on most of the dishes containing eel. The name is meant to specify which type of food it actually enhances. In this case, grilled fish. So why is it called Eel sauce? For the reason that it is most often used on eel, rice and many other sides. In Japan, sauces are generally named after the foods that they season.

Unagi Sauce Recipe

Health Benefits

Unagi is high in protein and also Vitamin A and calcium. There are Omega-3 fatty acids in Unagi, this helps to reduce wrinkles and keep the skin smooth and supple.

Uses

Many people who have access to, or know the recipe, do experiment with using Eel Sauce on other types of cuisine. I will share the recipe below. The making of Eel Sauce in Japan is not an easy task. The rice first needs to be shined. Saki is a Rice wine that is also used in making Unagi. The bran is removed from the rice. Similar to making beer, the rice is fermented. The starches in the rice aid in the fermentation. Another ingredient in Unagi is called Mirin. This is another alcohol component.

Mirin is a sweet type of rice wine used in Japanese cuisine. The sugar content in Mirin is just a little higher than what is in Saki. Shoyu, Japanese Soy Sauce is also used in Eel Sauce. This is different from the common Soy Sauce used across the world. The sauce contains wheat and also a fungal ingredient called koji. The process of making this sauce takes longer than making Saki or Mirin. There are no added food colorings in Shoyu. They keep it as natural as it can be kept.

The Taste

To determine what it tastes like is difficult. There is a tangy, salty and yet sweet taste to Unagi Sauce. It does have a natural ingredient similar to MSG, this is what gives it a slightly sweet taste. Due to the fermentation process, Unagi has a natural thickening to it.

Pre-made Unagi Sauce

            Kikkoman, Nippon and Otajoy are the top suppliers of premade Eel Sauce. Locating it in your local supermarket may be difficult. Look for a market that specializes in Asian cuisine and spices. Like all other foods and types of cuisine, Unagi is best when it is homemade. If you can not locate it personally in a physical location, check out the sites on the internet. Amazon and other sites will give you the ability to purchase it.

Frequently Asked Questions:

How do I store Unagi?

Place the Unagi into an airtight container, then place into the refrigerator. It will last for 2 to 3 months.

What if I cannot find Mirin?

If you have not been able to locate or cannot order off the internet, Mirin can be substituted using 1 tbsp water with 1 tsp granulated sugar.

I have no Saki, what can I use?

First off, do not use rice wine vinegar! This is completely different. You can substitute Dry Sherry, water or Korean or Chinese Rice wine.

The Recipe and Instructions

            With only four necessary ingredients, it is very easy to make Unagi at home. Easy, that is, if you have access to Saki and Mirin. Again, look for a market that specializes in Asian cuisine and spices. Making your own Unagi Sauce means that you decide how sweet you want it to be. Also how salty the taste is. This also means that there are no additives put into the Unagi.

Recipe:

¼ cup Mirin

1 ½ tbsp Saki

2 ½ tbsp sugar

¼ cup Soy Sauce

Directions:

  1. Gather and measure out all your ingredients
  2. Add each ingredient to a saucepan.
  3. Turn the heat to medium
  4. Whisk all the ingredients together
  5. Bring to a boil
  6. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes
  7. Turn off the heat and allow the Unagi to cool
  8. The Unagi will thicken as it cools

Unagi is such a popular addition to so many foods. It has been compared to many also. Although the looks are quite similar, teriyaki contains ginger, to give a bit of spice. Unagi has Mirin and Saki, which Teriyaki does not.

In comparison to Yakinuki, Unagi is very different. From the slightly sweet, tangy and salty flavor to the flavor of Yakiniku. Yakiniku is a Japanese Barbecue Sauce. This sauce too, is sweet and savory. It is treated as the American Barbecue Sauce is. The meat is first cooked somewhat, and then the sauce is brushed on the meat and allowed to further cook. This makes for a sticky, sweet and flavorful dish.

Hoisin Sauce has often been compared to Unagi, Eel Sauce. Hoisin does have Soy Sauce and sugar, but it lacks mirin and saki. Hoison has a few ingredients added that you will not find in Unagi. Hoisin includes Rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, garlic and pepper. It does not taste sweet at any level.

Dishes

What dishes use Unagi Sauce? Let’s see if we can determine a few. Fried Eel would definitely be one. Eel Sauce is used on most of the fish dishes that are in Japanese cuisine. This would include Sushi.  In one way, I guess you could think of Unagi Sauce as a Japanese version of Barbecue Sauce. Any cooked meat would welcome the bold and robust flavors found in a good Unagi Sauce. Think about meat that is grilled, virtually any type of meat. From fish to chicken, beef to turkey and also pork. Unagi Sauce does not mean it is strictly for Japanese cooking, or Japanese cuisine.

Experimenting with different ingredients can be fun. You never know when you will find the next number one dish! You could make fish tacos and add the Unagi Sauce to make it highlight the fish flavor. Combining it within egg rolls would also be a quite tasty dish. Japanese egg rolls could be made using ingredients you are comfortable with. Maybe try a sushi egg roll.

Vegetarians like Tofu, most people love rice. Why not grill either of those with a drizzle or two of Unagi Sauce? Rice balls with a slather of Unagi coating them will top off a Japanese meal perfectly. However, if you are one of many that have been medically advised to cut down on the sodium, then you will want to make a homemade version where you can make it with the low sodium version of Soy Sauce. Notice, that means you do not need to avoid Unagi Sauce. Speaking of vegetarianism. There is a version of Unagi that is made for vegetarians.

There is not readily available information pertaining to the origins of Unagi. It is assumed that it originated in Japan because the dishes that use Unagi, are for the most part all Japanese foods. The combination of the Japanese ingredients really brought out the excellent flavor in the Eel. The name then stuck. Although there is no eel at all in the sauce.

The technical name for Unagi is Unagi no tare’. That means sauce for eels. It can simply be called tare’. Unagi is used in numerous ways, not just to flavor eel and Freshwater or saltwater fish. It is also great to add over noodles and chicken.

Eel Sauce is not gluten free. Soy Sauce uses wheat when it is made. Eel Sauce is not meant for those on Keto Diets, low sodium, and not vegan. Soy beans would need to be used instead of wheat for the soy sauce.

There are a few other sauces that are similar to Unagi Sauce, but still miss the perfect taste. Some of these sauces include Ponzu, tempura,  and sukiyaki.

When you compare Ponzu with Eel Sauce, the difference is that Ponzu is made with Rice vinegar, Katsuobushi flakes and seaweed.

Even with completely different tastes, the sauces are all used in similar manners. Either one is a great condiment.

Unagi versus Teriyaki sauce are also very close but not quite the same. They both use soy sauce, sugar and water. Teriyaki adds more to get it’s unique flavor. They also add honey, ginger and garlic to produce Teriyaki Sauce.

Unagi has Mirin to make it distinctive. Hoisin does not have Mirin, but does use rice wine vinegar along with garlic, sesame oil and pepper. Hoisin Sauce can be used in the same applications as Unagi, but the flavor is much more powerful than Unagi.

That brings us to Oyster Sauce. We have already stated the fact that Eel Sauce does not use any part of the eel to make the sauce. Oyster Sauce, however, does use Oysters to make the sauce. Oyster sauce can be used to flavor some Sushi dishes, but it cannot take the place of Eel Sauce. Nitsume is another Eel Sauce. This however, is made from Eel broth. It is and can be used on eel, shrimp and octopus.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Can I use Unagi if I am pregnant?

Yes, you can use Eel Sauce. The confusion comes into play because many pregnant women are told to not eat Sushi, and many other types of fish. Since Eel Sauce does not contain any part of the eel or its broth, it is quite safe for pregnant women.

What is the best Unagi to purchase?

If you are purchasing premade Unagi, then look for a brand that is made by those who know how to make it. The number one brand would be Otajoy. They have been in the business of making Unagi for over 9 decades. Shirakiku is the next brand that I would recommend. Kikkoman comes in next. Their brand is almost as good as it gets, just a very tiny taste difference.

Sushi Sauce or Eel Sauce?

Unagi is both! It is a sauce used on eel and other fish when making sushi. Unagi cannot be labeled as Sushi Sauce because there are other sushi Sauces on the market. Those others may not be good to use to flavor Eel.

Is Eel Sauce healthy?

It is low in calories and low in carbs. However, the sodium level is high, as is the sugar.

Does Eel Sauce taste fishy?

There are some brands that use fish broth or eel broth in the process of making the sauce.

Can I buy Eel Sauce or Unagi from my local supermarket?

It is possible, You are better off looking for a store that specializes in Asian, Japanese cooking ingredients.

What have we learned from all this information? Quite simply, when you get the chance to have real Unagi, please do so! The taste is phenomenal and adds such a lift to foods such as fish, sushi and grilled meats. There are lots of varieties that spout they are the best. I suggest that you find a specialized location that sells Japanese ingredients, pick up some Unagi from there, or pick up the ingredients needed to make homemade Unagi yourself. Once you try this sauce, it will be difficult to use any other sauce. Unagi, Eel Sauce can replace simple soy sauce, Hoisin sauce. Oyster sauce and even Barbecue sauce. Unagi is often considered the barbecue for meats and fish in Japan.

Do not be fooled by others who claim to be better than Unagi. If they have to try so hard, the sauce does not have the savory, hearty, sweet and tangy flavor of Unagi.

READ MORE ABOUT JAPANESE FOOD AND DRINKS.

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