What Is Eel Sauce and How to Make Your Own at Home
This all started one Sunday night when my boyfriend and I went out for sushi. We ordered an appetizer plate to share, and the supremely delicious pile of crispy rice and raw fish was plated over a generous drizzle of eel sauce. As he (literally) licked the plate clean of the dark brown syrup, he asked me what eel sauce is and if I could make it. My response: It’s like duck sauce. It’s named after the dish it’s used in, but it’s not really made of eel. Of course, I honestly had no idea what it was actually made of… or if I could realistically reproduce it at home.
That’s when the Google searches began. Turns out, there’s not a lot out there about eel sauce or its origins. Really—there’s not even a Wikipedia page. Even flipping through a couple of Japanese cookbooks and searching indexes for eel sauce didn’t bring me many answers. I considered that eel sauce is named for its purpose and backtracked to start looking up Japanese barbecue eel recipes… only to find most were finished with a honey-like, dark brown sauce. Thus, I had found the eel sauce I was looking for, even if it wasn’t called that on paper.
How to Make Eel Sauce
Most eel sauce recipes call for equal parts soy sauce, mirin (a Japanese rice wine), and white sugar. I added a half cup of each ingredient to a sauce pan, whisked it over medium-high heat, and let it reduce by about a third before removing it from the heat. Then I left it to cool just slightly in order to become super sticky. Keep in mind, there are a few variations to eel sauce, sometimes called Nitsume, Unagi, or Kabayaki sauce. Some recipes add additional flavor layers from a touch of rice vinegar, sake , dashi (a type of Japanese fish stock), or eel eggs. Additionally, you can adjust the amount of sugar you use to your taste.
To get the consistency right, you can add water to loosen the sauce or a cornstarch slurry to thicken. Keep in mind, the goal is to achieve a syrupy consistency akin to warm honey, and the sauce will thicken up as it cools. I found I didn’t need to add either while preparing my eel sauce.
How to Use Eel Sauce
You can incorporate this sauce into any dish that could benefit from a richly sweet and salty kick. I drizzled it over some plain white fish I had pan-fried with some salt, pepper, and olive oil for a divine (and easy!) dinner, but it would be delicious served over just about any grilled fish, chicken, sushi, or even mixed into noodles. If you want a recipe to get your started, this Japanese-Style Trout With Dashi or this Grilled Tomato Salad with Mozzarella and Unagi Sauce are both highly tasty places to begin.