Eel in Your Sushi? What to Expect
There’s an eel in my sushi! We’re not sure why you sound so surprised, you ordered it!
If you take a leap of faith and order something you’ve never tried before, it’s nice to know what you’re letting yourself in for. In this post we’ll provide you with plenty of insight about this delicious (yes, delicious) delicacy.
Unagi – the freshwater eel
Unagi is the Japanese word for freshwater eel, which is a common ingredient in Japanese cooking. The freshwater eel is not to be confused with the saltwater eel, or Anago in Japanese. Both types of eel must be cooked before they can be eaten. Freshwater eels are typically filleted, grilled and brushed with a sweet soy reduction, then sliced into portion and served as nigiri (individual pieces of fish on rice balls). The saltwater eel is more commonly simmered (sushi) or deep-fried (tempura).
The origins of Unagi
Eel is not an original part of the Edo style sushi menu. The city of Edo, now Tokyo, was famous in the 19th century for its incredible fast food, including sushi, tempura, soba, and of course the unagi. However, unlike the rest of theses delicious morsels, which could be prepared by sushi chefs, the preparation of unagi was considered to be a separate profession as it required so much so skill. The story goes that your standard sushi chef would not even dare to prepare eel because they knew they couldn’t compete with the taste the specialist unagi chefs could create.
What does it taste like?
Unagi is highly nutritious and is rich in protein, vitamin A and calcium. Some say it tastes like a sweet, firm-fleshed white fish, a bit like bass. Cooked properly, eel should be soft, fluffy and flaky, pleasant on the palate and without a fishy or earthy aftertaste. The unagi’s saltwater cousin is slightly less rich and oily, but with a similarly soft texture and sweet taste.
How is it prepared?
The first step is to fillet and then grill the unagi on an open flame. This removes any excess fat which can be found under the skin. It is then steamed to further drain the oil and give the meat that beautiful fluffy texture. It is then grilled again on an open flame while being basted with a delicious eel sauce made from eel trimmings, soy sauce, sake (rice wine) and sugar.