Unagi sauce, also known as eel sauce, is a thick, sweet, and savory sauce that is a staple condiment in Japanese cuisine. It has a glossy, dark brown appearance and a rich umami flavor profile.
Unagi sauce is most commonly associated with unagi, or freshwater eel, which is grilled and then glazed with the sauce. However, it can also be used with many other ingredients like fish, chicken, pork, vegetables and more.
The main ingredients in unagi sauce are soy sauce, mirin, sake, and sugar. Additional ingredients may include dashi, ginger, and MSG. The soy sauce provides saltiness, the mirin adds sweetness, and the sake contributes further umami savoriness.
How is Unagi Sauce Made?
Making unagi sauce is relatively simple, requiring just a few pantry staples. Here is a basic recipe:
- Soy sauce
- Mirin (sweet Japanese rice wine)
- Sake (rice wine)
- Optional: dashi stock, grated ginger, MSG
The ingredients are combined together in a saucepan and simmered over medium heat. The soy sauce, mirin, and sake provide the classic Japanese umami flavors. The sugar balances out the saltiness and enhances the glaze-like texture. Ginger can be grated in for extra punch.
As the sauce simmers, the liquid will reduce down into a thick, glossy consistency that coats and clings to foods beautifully. Once it reaches the desired thickness, the unagi sauce is ready to use.
What Does Unagi Sauce Taste Like?
The hallmark taste of unagi sauce is its enticing blend of sweet and savory. The soy sauce base provides a rich, salty umami foundation. The mirin introduces a touch of sweetness to contrast the salt. Sake adds a subtle fermented flavor.
Overall, the sauce strikes a delicate balance between savory and sweet. It has a smooth, thick texture and a dark caramel color. The flavor is complex, yet harmonious – sweet upfront, followed by a pleasant savory kick. It’s a very moreish condiment!
How to Use Unagi Sauce in Cooking
Unagi sauce is extremely versatile in the kitchen. Here are some of the most popular ways to use it:
Using Unagi Sauce with Sushi
Unagi sauce is most iconically paired with unagi sushi rolls. The grilled eel is brushed with the sauce before serving. The contrast of the sweet glaze over the smoky eel is phenomenal.
Using Unagi Sauce with Grilled Fish or Meat
The sauce makes an excellent glaze or finishing sauce for grilled proteins like salmon, chicken, beef and pork. Brush it on during the last few minutes of cooking for added flavor.
Using Unagi Sauce in Stir-Fries
Add a few spoonfuls of unagi sauce to stir-fries for an easy flavor boost. It’s especially good with Japanese-style combinations like chicken and vegetables.
Using Unagi Sauce as a Marinade
Mix unagi sauce with some oil, garlic, and ginger to create a quick marinade for meats. Let proteins like chicken or flank steak soak for 30 mins to an hour before cooking.
Using Unagi Sauce as a Dipping Sauce
Serve unagi sauce alongside dumplings, tempura, spring rolls or fried foods as a dipping sauce. The sweet and salty flavors pair perfectly.
Where Can You Buy Unagi Sauce?
There are a few options for purchasing unagi sauce:
- Look in the Asian aisle of well-stocked supermarkets. Popular brands like Yamasa and Kikkoman make ready-made bottled unagi sauce.
- Purchase from an Asian grocery store. You may find a wider selection of Japanese brands.
- Order online from retailers like Amazon that carry Asian pantry items.
- Make it from scratch using the homemade recipe. This allows you to customize the flavor.
Can You Make Homemade Unagi Sauce?
Absolutely! Making homemade unagi sauce is simple. Here is an easy recipe:
- 1 cup soy sauce
- 1 cup mirin
- 1/2 cup sake
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 tbsp grated ginger (optional)
- Combine all ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat.
- Bring to a gentle simmer and cook for 10-15 minutes until reduced and thickened to glossy consistency.
- Remove from heat and let cool before using. Store refrigerated.
The ratios can be adjusted to suit your tastes – add more sugar for extra sweetness or more soy for a saltier profile. Feel free to experiment and make it your own!
What Are Some Popular Recipes That Use Unagi Sauce?
Here are 3 delicious ways to enjoy unagi sauce at home:
Recipe for Traditional Eel Sushi with Unagi Sauce
Make authentic unagi sushi with grilled eel and sweet unagi sauce. Brush the sauce over the eel for irresistible flavor.
Recipe for Chicken Teriyaki with Unagi Sauce
Swap regular teriyaki for flavorful unagi sauce in this chicken teriyaki stir-fry or grill. It adds deep umami flavor.
Recipe for Vegetable Stir-Fry with Unagi Sauce
Jazz up your veggie stir-fries with a few spoonfuls of unagi sauce. It gives a savory, glossy finish.
Is There Any Allergen Information Related to Unagi Sauce?
Unagi sauce is made primarily from soybeans, so it contains soy. Most commercial brands will be labeled gluten-free. However, check labels for potential fish ingredients if you have allergies or dietary restrictions. Homemade unagi sauce can be tailored to avoid specific allergens.
Are There Any Health Benefits or Risks Associated With Consuming Unagi Sauce?
Unagi sauce is high in sodium due to the soy sauce content. This is something to be mindful of, especially for those restricting sodium intake. Other than that, unagi sauce can be enjoyed in moderation as part of an overall balanced diet.
The sauce provides some nutritional benefits. For example, the soy contains amino acids and antioxidants. Mirin has vitamins like thiamine and riboflavin. When used to flavor vegetables or lean proteins, unagi sauce can enhance the nutrition of the dish.
In summary, unagi sauce is a versatile Japanese condiment with a deliciously complex sweet and savory taste. It can be used to glaze grilled eel or as a flavor enhancer for many other savory dishes. With just a few pantry ingredients, you can even whip up homemade unagi sauce easily. A little bit of this sauce goes a long way in adding that irresistible umami depth to meals.
Unagi sauce is a unique and versatile Japanese condiment with a harmonious blend of sweet and savory flavors. Its glossy, umami-rich taste comes from a short list of ingredients like soy sauce, mirin, and sake. While it is classically paired with grilled eel, unagi sauce can also be used to enhance the flavor of stir-fries, glazed proteins, dipping sauces, and more. With a few simple pantry staples, you can even make homemade unagi sauce to customize the flavor profile. This sweet and salty specialty sauce is beloved for good reason – just a spoonful can add a touch of Japanese cuisine to everyday cooking.