Learn how to make the best unagi, also known as eel! Perfectly seasoned and ready in minutes, this restaurant style dish tastes amazing over rice or with a salad!
It should be no surprise to you we are obsessed with Japanese cuisine. We have a plethora of favorites on hand, including harumaki and beef negimaki. When we want something a little more fancy or filling, we love to make some unadon.
What is unagi?
Unagi is the Japanese word for freshwater eel and is a popular dish in many Japanese dishes. Also known as unagi kabayaki, it’s often purchased as smoked fillets, but is delicious grilled, fried, or even baked.
While delicious on its own, it’s most commonly served over rice, as unagi don or unagi donburi; don/donburi being the Japanese word for rice.
We are huge fans of this dish, ever since we travelled extensively through Japan. Upon return, we jumped straight first into properly learning the cuisine and honestly; we haven’t been to a Japanese restaurant since then!
Now, unagi may look intimidating to prepare but it’s actually incredibly easy and doesn’t require any marination. See, the fish comes pre-cooked, and all you do is broil it, season it, sauce it, then serve it. It is as simple as that!
By the way, the entire cooking time is less than 10 minutes.
Oh, and if you are worried about what to season it with, we’ve got you covered with the perfect sauce, also known as unagi no tare.
Of course, you can serve it over steamed rice and pair it with Japanese pickles, but we highly recommend over some instant pot sushi rice. It reminds us sort of like a poke bowl, with the unagi fillet being the star protein!
Thanks to the unagi fillets coming pre-smoked/pre-cooked, there is very little prep work required on your end.
- Unagi fillets. Unagi fillets can be found at mainstream grocery stores (in the freezer aisle) and Japanese grocery stores. I found mine at a sushi and sashimi wholesaler. Most unagi fillets come pre-seasoned or smoked. Do not use pre-flavored fillets or else adding the sauce will be pointless.
- Sauce. Also known as an eel sauce, skip the store-bought kind and make your own.
- Accompaniments. Steamed rice, Japanese pickles, steamed edamame beans, and an onsen egg.
How to prepare unagi?
Step 1- Prep the unagi
Start by removing the unagi fillet(s) from its packaging. Use a paper towel to mop up any excess moisture. This can sometimes happen if the eel has been frozen then thawed.
Step 2- Bake the eel
Next, place the eel fillets on a baking pan lined with tinfoil. Bake the unagi for 7-8 minutes, until it sizzles around the edges. Remove it from the oven and let it sit for two minutes.
Step 3- Dress and serve
Now, drizzle the eel sauce over the top of the fillets, using the back of the spoon to spread around. Place the unagi on rice, with a salad, or however you’d like to serve it.
Tips to make the best recipe
- Always broil the eel. Broiling ensures the exterior caramelizes quickly and in turn, the eel sauce seeps into it. It makes the dish much more flavorful and tender.
- Remove excess liquid. Unless you catch the eel yourself, you will most likely be buying it frozen or thawed. This isn’t an issue at all, except that it will sometimes have pockets of liquid or melted ice. Be sure to mop all this up before cooking it.
- Add the sauce soon after. After you rest the eel for several minutes, quickly spread the sauce on top so it seeps into it.
- To store: Leftovers can be stored in the refrigerator, covered, for up to three days.
- To freeze: We do not recommend re-freezing the eel as most times, they can be purchased frozen.
What does unagi go well with?
- Over steamed Japanese rice or your favorite steamed rice.
- With grilled vegetables like spinach, grilled sweet potato, and
- Over fried rice or curry fried rice, or for a lower carb take, over cauliflower fried rice.
- In sushi, like in these eel sushi rolls or in a dragon hand roll.
- On its own, served simply with some Japanese pickles and wasabi.
Frequently Asked Questions
Unagi is not traditionally raw. It is purchased pre-cooked, and requires baking, roasting, or pan-frying.
Eel is higher in calories than other seafood due to its higher fat content. There are 293 calories
Unagi | Authentic EASY Recipe
- 2 8 ounce unagi fillets
- 1/4 cup unagi sauce
- Preheat the oven to 200C/400F. Line a large baking sheet with tinfoil, spray it with oil, and set aside.
- Remove the unagi fillets from its packaging and pat dry completely. Place them on the tinfoil and broil for 7-8 minutes.
- Remove the unagi from the oven and let them cool for two minutes, before spreading the eel sauce on top. Serve with your favorite side dishes immediately.