Sweet, savory, and full of flavor, this delicious Homemade Eel Sauce recipe is the dream sauce for Japanese broiled eel fillets and BBQ dishes. You only need four ingredients!
Have you tried grilled unagi (eel) before? What is that caramelized sweet, sticky and salty sauce that goes with unagi? Well, the irresistible dark brown sauce is Eel Sauce or Unagi Sauce (うなぎのたれ). It’s so easy to make and fantastic as a glaze or marinade on BBQ dishes, dragon rolls, or rice balls too.
Table of Contents
What Is Eel Sauce
Eel sauce is unagi no tare (うなぎのたれ) in Japanese, and it is a thick and sweetened soy sauce. Traditionally, it is used on grilled eel or dishes that feature grilled eel, such as unagi don or unagi sushi and doesn’t contain eel. Although many commercial sauce brands are available, the best eel sauce is the homemade version.
What Does It Taste Like
It tastes savory-sweet from the sake, soy sauce, mirin, and sugar. Since the ingredients are exactly the same as teriyaki sauce, you might be wondering if eel sauce is basically the same as teriyaki. Yes, both sauces are essentially similar, but you’ll notice the slight differences when it comes to the richness and sweetness.
If you’re interested in making authentic Japanese teriyaki sauce, get my recipe here.
How to Make Eel Sauce
Making this sauce at home is as simple as one can imagine. You only need four basic ingredients to create a rich, umami-packed sauce. And that’s how we make it in Japan!
The Ingredients You’ll Need
- Sake (Japanese Rice Wine) – It adds umami to the sauce. Sake is sold at major Japanese/Asian grocery stores or well-stocked liquor stores.
- Mirin (Sweet Rice Wine) – Adds a mild sweetness and luster to the sauce.
- Soy sauce – Use only Japanese soy sauce as it tastes different from Chinese, Korean, or Thai soy sauce. Learn more here. Use Gluten-Free Soy Sauce to make the gluten-free version of the sauce.
- Sugar – In addition to sweetness, sugar helps thicken the sauce naturally.
Sake, mirin, and soy sauce are basic staples for Japanese cooking, so it’s worth getting them if you’re thinking to cook all your favorite Japanese recipes at home.
Note: Authentic unagi sauce do not use rice vinegar as it adds an acidic tang and does not contribute to the integrity of the sauce. Also, please don’t add garlic, ginger, cornstarch to the sauce. It wouldn’t be unagi sauce with all these additions.
The Cooking Step
- Combine the mixture in a small pot and let it simmer until the sauce caramelizes and thickens to your desired richness.
The great thing about making the sauce instead of buying the bottled variety is you can decide on the balance of sweet and salty. Plus, there are no additives or preservatives.
How To Use Eel Sauce
Aside from regular unagi dishes, unagi sauce is finger-licking delicious on BBQ. Think grilled fish, pan-fried chicken, tofu, mushrooms, and onigiri rice balls. All you need is a light brush or a drizzle of this sweet-savory sauce to heighten the flavor. In addition, you can use it as a marinade for meats or as a dressing for noodles. We don’t typically use it as a dipping sauce though.
If you’re looking for a new flavor to add to your grill menus this year, try out this recipe! It is one of my favorite for summer cooking.
You can also double the batch and store the leftover sauce in an airtight container and keep in the refrigerator for up to 2-3 months.
How to Use Eel Sauce
Where To Buy Eel Sauce
You can purchase the bottled variety in the condiment section of Japanese grocery stores and well-stocked Asian supermarkets. If that’s not an option, find it on Amazon.
More Authentic Japanese Sauces to Make at Home
- Teriyaki Sauce – the way we make it in Japan!
- Tonkatsu Sauce
- Ponzu Sauce
- How to Make Japanese Kewpie Mayonnaise
Homemade Eel Sauce (Unagi Sauce)
- Gather all the ingredients. To make a larger batch of Unagi Sauce, see Notes below for the ingredients list.
- In a small saucepan, add ¼ cup mirin, 1½ Tbsp sake, and 2½ Tbsp sugar. Turn on the heat to medium and whisk all the ingredients together.
- Then, add ¼ cup soy sauce and bring it to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to low and continue simmering for 10 minutes. Toward the end of cooking, you will see more bubbles.
- Turn off the heat and let it cool. The sauce will thicken as it cools. It‘s now ready to use.
- You can store the sauce in an airtight jar and keep in the refrigerator for up to 2–3 months.
For the full amount Unagi Sauce (extra will keep for 3 months)
- ¾ cup (180 ml) soy sauce
- ¾ cup (180 ml) mirin
- ½ cup (100 g) sugar
- ¼ cup (60 ml) sake
Editor’s Note: The post is originally published on May 6, 2013. The new images have been added to the post in May 2019.