Sweet, sticky, and packed with umami, eel sauce is the perfect condiment to add flavor to grilled dishes, yaki onigiri, and to drizzle on sushi. Only 4 ingredients are needed to make this iconic Japanese sauce!
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Much like homemade teriyaki sauce (the flavors are very similar), eel sauce is becoming one of those condiments I must have in my fridge at all times.
That’s because it complements so many of the dishes I cook and is an easy fix for a piece of fish, or some grilled asparagus that need a boost of flavor.
And while I used to purchase eel sauce at my favorite Japanese supermarket in New York, finding some in the midwest became a bit more challenging. So I started making my own and it turns out that I like my recipe a whole lot more than the store bought version!
Store bought eel sauce tends to be very sweet while my version is much more deeply umami and savory.
Let me show you how to make it today – you only need 4 ingredients and it takes about 20 minutes to make. Let’s cook!
What is Eel Sauce?
Eel sauce, also called unagi no tare, kabayaki sauce, or nitsume sauce (sweet eel sauce), is a sweet, umami, and savory brown sauce that’s traditionally used for grilled eel dishes such as kabayaki, unadon (or unaju), and hitsumabushi.
It’s a simple sauce made with soy sauce, mirin, sugar, and sake (no eel is used in the sauce except for the more traditional nitsume sauce, which contains eel broth), that’s thick enough to be used as a glaze.
Where to Buy Eel Sauce
You can purchase eel sauce in Japanese supermarkets such as Mitsuwa, Sunrise Mart, and Nijiya Market. You may also find eel sauce in some Asian supermarkets although it’s not a guarantee that you will find it.
Eel sauce can also be found at Target sometimes! But just like Asian supermarkets it depends on which one you visit and where you are located. The easiest way to get your hands on eel sauce is to either make it at home or order it online.
Ingredients for Eel Sauce
- Mirin: To add sweetness and acidity and to give the sauce its sticky texture. I’m using 100ml which comes to about 6 1/2 tablespoons.
- Sugar: To add sweetness and to give the sauce it’s sticky texture. I’m using 3 1/2 tablespoons but feel free to add more if you prefer a sweeter sauce. I recommend adding 1 additional teaspoon at a time and do a taste test.
- Soy Sauce: Umami! This sauce is full of umami and what better than soy sauce to give it that fifth taste. I’m using 100ml which comes to about 6 1/2 tablespoons.
- Sake: Use 2 1/2 tablespoons of cooking sake or sake you would drink to add fruitiness and a little bitterness to the sauce.
How to Make Eel Sauce
- Put all the ingredients in a small saucepan and bring the mixture to a boil.
- Lower the heat to low so the sauce is still bubbling and cook for 15-20 minutes.
- When the sauce has thickened, turn the heat off and transfer it to a bowl. Let it cool to room temperature (the sauce will continue to thicken as it cools down).
- Transfer the sauce to a sauce bottle or storage container and keep it in the fridge. Enjoy!
You can make gluten-free eel sauce by using tamari sauce or liquid amino instead of soy sauce. And if you are wondering whether eel sauce is vegan, the answer is yes! 😀
How Long Does Eel Sauce Last?
Homemade eel sauce will last about 2 weeks stored in the fridge. Store bought eel sauce can last for several months because it contains preservatives.
You can freeze eel sauce if you don’t use it very often. Save it in an airtight storage container and to thaw, put the frozen sauce in a small saucepan and reheat on low until the sauce is hot.
What to Serve Eel Sauce With
Oh so many ways to use this sweet and savory sauce!
The primary use for unagi sauce is obviously for grilled eel, but there are so many different ways to enjoy it.
Unagi sauce can be used to flavor grilled vegetables, tofu, fish, chicken, and beef (perfect for barbecue season), it can be used as a sauce for sandwiches and pizzas (it’s so good on pizza!), lightly brushed on yaki onigiri (grilled rice ball), and drizzled on sushi.
Here are some recipes you can pair eel sauce with:
- Temari sushi
- Onigiri (how to make onigiri – 4 different flavors)
- Baked chicken katsu
- California rolls
Did you like this Eel Sauce Recipe? Are there changes you made that you would like to share? Share your tips and recommendations in the comments section below!
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