Unagi, the Japanese eel, is often found as a component of sushi rolls in many Japanese restaurants in America. In Japan, however, it is a much larger part of their cuisine, and you can enjoy it in many different ways. The fish, with a mild taste somewhat similar to raw salmon or cooked catfish, is quite versatile, and readily absorbs the flavors of sauces and seasonings.
It is also highly popular in the summer, as it is a refreshing dish that helps alleviate summer fatigue. Of course, you don’t have to wait until summer to enjoy this tasty and healthy treat. You also don’t have to have it relegated to a sushi roll among other ingredients, either. Here are five ways you can enjoy unagi, whether in Japanese restaurants or prepared and served in your own home.
This is a very traditional way of cooking unagi in Japan. Those who enjoy grilling foods will definitely want to give it a try. Look for eel in an Asian supermarket — some supermarkets may only carry it in the summer months and early fall. The fishmonger can fillet, debone and butterfly the eel for you or, if you have a deft hand and some good knife skills, you can do it yourself!
You’ll also want to purchase tare. It’s a sweet soy sauce that will act as a delicious glaze for the unagi when cooked. Skewer the eel and brush it with the tare, and then grill it for a few minutes on each side, until it flakes easily with a fork. The combination of the tare and the fattiness of the eel results in a rich umami and a crispy treat!
This unagi dish is very similar to Kabayaki, except it is roasted and seasoned only with salt. This allows you to experience the true, subtle flavors of the eel. The dish is often accompanied by wasabi and a small bowl of light soy sauce for dipping, if desired.
A small strip of grilled unagi that has been seasoned with tare is set atop sushi rice, and served as nigiri sushi. The slight sweetness of the rice complements the savory sweetness of the grilled eel. You can easily find this dish in sushi restaurants all across the United States. It enables you to experience unagi without losing its flavors among other ingredients in a maki roll.
Umaki is somewhat of a combination of words — maki, which means “rolled,” and unagi, which, of course, means “eel.” Umaki refers to an egg omelet that has been rolled around slices of unagi. This immensely satisfying dish can be prepared in many different ways using various seasonings or dashi broth. The resulting dishes are often extremely flavorful, fluffy, juicy and tender.
This eel dish is growing in popularity, as it actually enables you to enjoy the eel with several different flavors. The dish comes with a bowl of grilled and finely chopped unagi, which is also usually sitting atop rice and topped with nori. In addition, bowls of several different condiments and garnishes, such as wasabi, green onion, tsukemono (Japanese pickles), and others. This enables you to mix the unagi with other seasonings and garnishes to enjoy different and exciting flavors.
Next time you see unagi on the menu at your favorite Japanese restaurant, try it in a dish other than a maki roll. You will definitely not regret it!