This wonderful grilled unagi with eel sauce recipe is a fusion between Japanese and Vietnamese cuisine. Traditionally, grilled freshwater eel (grilled unagi) is served with eel sauce (nitsume sauce). It’ll taste even better if you pair this wonderful grilled unagi with sweet chili garlic dipping sauce. Also, if you’re looking for canape ideas, this recipe is the one. It tastes wonderful and I bet nobody else has done this way with grilled unagi before.Jump to Recipe
I love freshwater eel (unagi), everytime I ate at a Japanese restaurant I had to order this one, regardless of how expensive it was. Unagi in the States is ridiculously expensive, sometimes it’s even twice the price of lobster tail.
I barely cook unagi at home because it’s also hard to buy fresh eel from the market, depends on the season and depends on how lucky I am, but they have frozen eel as well as frozen precooked eel in marinated sauce (I’ll show you how to prepare them in both versions fresh and frozen later in this post).
Today I was able to buy 1 huge fresh water eel so I decided to make something nice with it. That was how this grilled unagi with eel sauce recipe created. Eel sauce or nitsume is made from eel broth, mirin, and soy sauce. In this recipe grilled unagi is served with Vietnamese fine rice vermicelli noodles (banh hoi); instead of a traditional Japanese style over a bed of steam rice. It was so yummy and delicious, I’m actually craving for more now.
If you were lucky like me, you could buy a live freshwater eel. When you’re at the market, ask the butcher to save the eel’s bones for you, and only butterfly the eel not cut it into pieces. You will use the bones to make nitsume sauce. As for the eel, you will grill it two time (apply the same steps for frozen uncooked eel).Jump to Recipe
You only need to season just a little bit salt and pepper (remember just a little bit – like a small dash) and then grilled it on hot charcoal or hot electric grill.
Let the grilled unagi rest for 30 minutes before continue to grill the second time. Remember to glaze the eel with eel sauce in this process. If you buy frozen precooked eel in marinated liquid, you only need to do second grill. Some people like to microwave it instead. However I dislike any cooking idea involved with microwave so I rather spend more time to traditionally grill my unagi instead.
If you happen don’t have eel bones, you can use fish bones instead. But try to use the bones from less fatty fish in order to mimic the original flavor of this eel sauce.
If you have any left over eel sauce, you can store it in air tight container and keep in refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
Grilled Unagi with Japanese Eel Sauce
- 2 c water
- eel bones from one eel
- ½ c cooking sake
- 1 c mirin
- 2 oz soy sauce
- 1 fresh eel or frozen uncooked/cooked eel
- bamboo skewers for canape if needed
- eel sauce for glazing
- Vietnamese fine rice vermicelli banh hoi, as needed
- pineapple as needed
- culantro as needed
- scallion oil
- rice paddy herb
- Chili garlic fish sauce dipping sauce recipe mentioned above
- Ina small pot, bring 2 c of water to boil, put in eel bones then simmer until the liquid reduce to ½ c. Strain and discard bones.
- In a medium pan, put together ½ c eel broth with cooking sake, mirin, soy sauce.Bring to boil and simmer until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon. Taste, and adjust seasoning if needed (add sugar if need more sweetness and more water if it's too salty).
Grilled unagi. First grill.
- Skew 2-3 skewers across eel body to make sure it's not curl up while grilling.
For fresh and frozen uncooked eel:
- Season 1 small dash salt and pepper, make sure your grill is hot, brush one thin layer of vegetable oil on each side and grill each side for 5-8 minutes.
- Set aside and let sit for 30 minutes or keep in the fridge until you're ready to grill the second time.
For frozen pre-cooked eel:
- Take the precooked eel out of package, wipe down excess sauce, put skewers across the body and be ready to grill. Just don't put too much glaze as you do fresh and uncooked frozen eel.
Grilled unagi. Second grill.
- Continue to grilled the second time, the skin side down first, when it gets crispy, glaze the top with eel sauce. Turn the eel, then glaze the skin side. Try not to over turn the eel, only need to flip it one to two time. Use eel sauce to glaze whenever you flip.
- Take it off the grill and let it rest for 5 minutes before serving. Eat with Vietnamese fine rice noodle, pineapple, fish sauce and herb.
- Assemble following this order if you decide to serve this as canape: pineapple square, vermicelli, herb, grilled eel, and pineapple square again.