What is Unagi?
Unagi (うなぎ, 鰻) refers to freshwater eel and it is hugely popular in Japanese cuisine. Cultivated during May to October, it is generally regarded as the summer food in Japan. There is even a custom of eating Unagi on the Day of the Ox in the midsummer as it is believed to provide stamina and energy in the hot days. You can find specialty restaurants devoted to serving only unagi dishes.
One of the time-honored preparations for unagi is kabayaki where the freshwater eels are filleted, grilled and brushed with a sweet soy reduction. Outside of Japan, you are most likely come across unagi being served as sushi, whereas, in Japan, unagi is served in many different ways. Some popular unagi dishes include unadon (rice bowl dish with grilled sliced eel served over a bed of rice), unagi nigiri (rice ball topped with a small slice of grilled eel), shirayaki (the eel is roasted and seasoned only with salt), eel hone senbei (the bones are deep fried and served as snack to enjoy with alcoholic drinks) and kimosui (a clear soup made flavored with boiled eel livers and added to a broth).
To prepare unagi dishes at home, you can find cooked unagi that have been grilled over charcoals being sold in the markets. If you go to Japanese supermarkets, they come in vacuumed sealed packages and they can be kept frozen until you’re ready to enjoy.
If you are wondering if the unagi sushi is cooked, the answer is yes. Unagi or freshwater eels are always eaten cooked.
How does unagi taste like?
Unagi is known as one of the fattiest foods from the ocean. Its flavor is similar to white fish like bass, but much sweeter. The tiny bones are tender to eat. When cooked properly, the texture should be fluffy, flaky, tender and juicy. Because it is always served grilled with a sweet soy sauce, unagi is appreciated for the overall richness from the sauce and the irresistible smoky aroma from grilling.
What is the difference between unagi and Anago?
Unagi is not to be confused with anago, which is saltwater eel. Although both play an important role in Japanese culture and cuisine, they are used differently in cooking. Anago is more commonly deep-fried as tempura or simmered, compared to unagi which is usually grilled with a sauce. Unagi is more oily and has a much richer, bold flavor, making it a preferred choice.
Benefits of Unagi
Unagi is high in protein, calcium, vitamin A and other minerals. As one of the richest foods from the ocean, it is also rich in EPA and DHA fatty acids, which are good for brain development and help reduce blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
If you enjoy unagi, here are some easy dishes you can make at home.