Eel sauce, also known as unagi or kabayaki sauce, is a thick, dark, sweet-savory sauce commonly used in Japanese cuisine. The sauce offers a balance of sweetness, saltiness, and a hint of umami, but it doesn’t taste like eel.
What is Eel Sauce?
Eel sauce, also known as unagi sauce or kabayaki sauce, is a staple in Japanese cuisine with a rich history.
Originating as a traditional glaze for grilled eel dishes like unagi donburi, this thick, dark sauce has become a versatile ingredient in various types of culinary preparations.
Beyond its quintessential role in elevating the flavors of grilled eel, eel sauce is also frequently drizzled over sushi rolls and sashimi to add a layer of complexity and depth.
With its unique balance of sweet, salty, and umami flavors, eel sauce captivates the palate and complements a wide range of dishes.
The main ingredients required to make eel sauce are quite straightforward and accessible:
- Soy Sauce: Adds saltiness and umami.
- Mirin: A sweet rice wine that contributes sweetness.
- Sugar: Enhances the sweetness and balances the saltiness of soy sauce.
Some variations of the recipe may also include additional elements like sake, for a bit of alcoholic depth, or dashi, a Japanese stock made from fish and kelp, to add complexity.
Making Eel Sauce: The Process
Creating eel sauce involves a reduction technique that transforms the mixture into a syrupy, thick consistency. Here’s a simplified outline of the process:
- Combine Ingredients: Soy sauce, mirin, and sugar (plus sake or dashi, if using) are mixed together in a saucepan.
- Simmer and Reduce: The mixture is brought to a simmer over low heat.
- Thicken: As the sauce simmers, it reduces in volume and thickens, becoming more concentrated in flavor. This usually takes about 20 to 30 minutes.
- Strain and Cool: Some recipes recommend straining the sauce through a fine-mesh sieve to ensure smoothness, although this step is optional. Allow the sauce to cool, and it will thicken further.
What Does Eel Sauce Taste Like?
Eel sauce possesses a compelling balance of sweet, salty, and umami flavors. The sweetness derived from the mirin and sugar plays against the salty and umami depths offered by soy sauce, creating a harmonious and layered taste experience.
Comparison to Other Sauces
If you’re familiar with soy sauce, think of eel sauce as its richer, sweeter cousin.
While both share a base of soy sauce, the added ingredients in eel sauce make it more complex and versatile.
It’s thicker and has a syrup-like consistency, akin to a savory-sweet glaze. This gives it a unique edge compared to more straightforward condiments.
Despite its name, it’s important to note that eel sauce does not taste like eel. The name comes from its traditional role as a glaze for grilled eel dishes, not from any eel-based ingredients. So even if you’re not a fan of eel, don’t let the name deter you from trying this delectable sauce.
Does Eel Sauce Actually Taste Like Eel?
No, eel sauce does not taste like eel. The name comes from its traditional use as a glaze for grilled eel dishes, but the sauce itself is made from soy sauce, mirin, and sugar.
What Are The Dominant Flavors In Eel Sauce?
The dominant flavors in eel sauce are sweet, salty, and umami. The sweetness comes from mirin and sugar, while the saltiness and umami come from soy sauce.
Is Eel Sauce Similar To Teriyaki Sauce?
While both sauces share some similarities like sweetness and a soy sauce base, eel sauce tends to be thicker and has a more concentrated flavor. Teriyaki sauce often includes additional ingredients like garlic and ginger, which are not traditionally part of eel sauce.
How Spicy Is Eel Sauce?
Eel sauce is not spicy. It is more on the sweet and savory side, focusing on the balance of sweetness, saltiness, and umami flavors.
Can I Use Eel Sauce As A Substitute For Soy Sauce?
Eel sauce is much sweeter and thicker than regular soy sauce. While it can’t directly substitute soy sauce in most recipes, it could offer an interesting flavor twist depending on the dish.
What Types Of Food Pair Well With Eel Sauce?
Eel sauce pairs excellently with grilled or roasted meats, especially fatty fish like eel or salmon. It is also commonly used as a drizzle on sushi rolls or as a dipping sauce for sashimi. You can even use it in stir-fries or as a glaze for vegetables.
Is Eel Sauce Vegetarian Or Vegan?
Traditional eel sauce is not vegetarian or vegan due to the inclusion of fish-derived ingredients like dashi or because it is sometimes made in facilities that also process fish. However, there are vegan versions available that substitute vegetable broth for any fish-derived ingredients.
Can You Make Eel Sauce Less Sweet?
Yes, you can adjust the sugar or mirin content in homemade eel sauce recipes to make it less sweet according to your preference. However, reducing the sweetness may alter the traditional balance of flavors.
Does Eel Sauce Go Bad?
Like any other sauce, eel sauce can go bad if not stored properly. It’s best to keep it in an airtight container in the refrigerator, where it can last for up to a month.