What Is Unagi And How To Make The Basic Sauce (recipe)?

Unagi dish

Japanese food enthusiasts who work through the entire sushi menu encounter Unagi at some point. It is the most umami-packed, juiciest and richest fish in the menu. So, what is it and what is the sauce that is used for it? 

What is Unagi?

Unagi means freshwater eel in Japan. It is much sweeter and more tender than its saltwater cousins. It has tender and smaller bones which are usually eaten without causing a tickling experience down there. The eel is typically brushed, grilled and filet with a sweet-soy reduction and then sliced into small portions.


It is served as nigiri which are individual fish pieces on rice balls. It is held with a nori strip and tastes like a mild but firm-fleshed white fish such as bass. It is however sweeter, especially when taken with rice. 

Unagi by Laurel Fan, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License by Laurel Fan - Unagi

Unagi in Japanese Cuisine 

Unagi is usually used as a major ingredient in Japanese cooking. It is served in many forms including donburi dish and unadon when served with rice.

Unagi Don - Kura AUD12.90 regular by avlxyz, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License by avlxyz

It can also be served as a pie, a special biscuit that is made of powdered unagi. It is high is calcium, vitamin A and protein. Unagi specialist restaurants are found throughout Japan and you can find them by its special character.  

They prefer that the eel are from Lake Hamana because it is considered the highest quality in Japan. Unagi is habitually eaten during summers with Midsummer Day of the Ox marked as a special day for eating it.  It can also be served as unakyu which is a combination of unagi and cucumber. 

Unagi Sauce Basic Recipe

It is a special type of soy sauces that is thick and sweetened. It is used in various Japanese eel dishes. It can be used on top of unagi, when grilling or in nigiri sushi. You can prepare one at home with the right ingredients. You only need a half cup of soy sauce, mirin or sweet rice wine and a quarter cup of sugar. Prepare it as follows:

1. Mix the ingredients together.

2. Pour the mixture into a small pan.

3. Put the pan on low heat and let it simmer while stirring until the sugar dissolves. 

4. Let the sauce cool and keep it fridge. 

Unagi has been eaten for thousands of years in Japan. It is highly nutritious and some people believe it gives stamina. As a result, it is a custom for Japanese to eat it during the hot summer. So, make sure you have a taste of this eel, especially if you happen to visit Japan between mid-July and early August.