Love unagi? Then you must try this catfish kabayaki recipe, sweet and delicate tare sauce on top of tender juicy catfish and garnished with sesame seeds.
Growing up in Japan I used to eat fish more often than I do now living in the U.S. With the wide variety of fish available in Japan, my mom prepared and cooked different kinds of fish throughout the week. She always said we need to eat meat and fish alternatively so that we can enjoy food from both the sea and land.
Today I want to introduce Catfish Kabayaki that is easy to get ingredients for anywhere you live, economical, simple and fast to cook, and last but not least, delicious for the whole family to enjoy.
What is Kabayaki?
Kabayaki (蒲焼き) is a style of Japanese cooking – just like how Teriyaki (照り焼き) is actually a style of cooking, not the name of the sauce.
This style of cooking is specifically for dishes prepared with fish. Typically a long fish is filleted, deboned, skewered, grilled without the sauce first, and then brushed with sweet soy sauce called tare (pronounced [ta LEH] たれ).
The popular Japanese eel or unagi (鰻) is actually called Unagi no Kabayaki (鰻の蒲焼き) because the way it’s cooked is kabayaki-style.
Catfish Kabayaki as an Alternative to Unagi (Eel)
Speaking of eel or unagi, this Catfish Kabayaki is a wonderful alternative to Unadon (鰻丼, Unagi Donburi) or Unajyu (鰻重).
For several years, good quality domestic unagi has been really expensive in Japan. We occasionally find them in the US at Japanese grocery stores, but the cost is close to $30 for one fillet. The non-Japanese frozen unagi in vacuum pack is cheaper, but has a rubbery texture and it doesn’t taste very good.
So what’s a good alternative? Try this Catfish Kabayaki! It is not unagi, but I think it’ll satisfy your cravings!
Key Ingredients to Make Perfect Catfish Kabayaki
Catfish: My local fish monger recommended me to use basa fish, a type of catfish for this recipe and I liked how it turned out! Of course you can use other types of fish as well, but choose fillets that are relatively thin so it’ll cook faster.
Flour: I use all-purpose flour for my Teriyaki Salmon recipe as well, and some of you asked why. Applying flour before cooking the fillet helps to retain the shape (flesh) of the fish, resulting in crispier texture, and thickens the sauce when you pour the liquid seasonings later.
Sake & Mirin: If you’re new to Japanese cooking, you probably want to ask if you can replace or substitute sake and mirin for something else. I always say to get these two ingredients because that’s they are essential Japanese ingredients that we use for a majority of Japanese (savory) recipes. Please check each pantry page for substitute information: sake here, and mirin here.
As usual, my family are the guinea pigs of my creation and they absolutely loved this dish. The sweet tare sauce worked really well with tender catfish and you have to enjoy it on top of rice. We liked this dish so much we ate it twice in 1 week. Enjoy!
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- 2 basa fillets (catfish fillets)
- ⅛ tsp Diamond Crystal kosher salt
- ⅛ tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1½ Tbsp all-purpose flour (plain flour)
- 1½ Tbsp neutral oil
- 2 green onions/scallions
- 2 servings cooked Japanese short-grain rice (typically 1⅔ cups (250 g) per donburi serving)
- 1 tsp toasted white sesame seeds
- Japanese sansho pepper (optional)
- Before You Start: Gather all the ingredients. For the steamed rice, please note that 1½ cups (300 g, 2 rice cooker cups) of uncooked Japanese short-grain rice yield 4⅓ cups (660 g) of cooked rice, enough for 2 donburi servings (3⅓ cups, 500 g). See how to cook short-grain rice with a rice cooker, pot on the stove, Instant Pot, or donabe.
- Cut 2 basa fillets (catfish fillets) in half. Season both sides of the catfish fillets with ⅛ tsp Diamond Crystal kosher salt and ⅛ tsp freshly ground black pepper.
- Coat the fillets with 1½ Tbsp all-purpose flour (plain flour). Gently shake off the excess flour.
- Heat 1½ Tbsp neutral oil (if you like a crispier texture, use 2 to 2½ Tbsp oil) in the frying pan over medium heat. Cook both sides of the fillet until golden brown, about 3–4 minutes each side.
- Whisk 2 Tbsp sake, 2 Tbsp mirin, 3 Tbsp soy sauce, and 1 Tbsp sugar together in a small bowl. Pour the sauce over the fish in the pan. Using a spoon, scoop some sauce and pour it over the fish several times. Cook a few minutes until the sauce thickens.
- Thinly slice 2 green onions/scallions and sprinkle over the fish. Turn off the heat. Divide 2 servings cooked Japanese short-grain rice into individual large donburi bowls or plates. Serve the fish over the rice. Drizzle the sauce over the fish. Sprinkle with 1 tsp toasted white sesame seeds and Japanese sansho pepper, if you‘d like.