a tray of eel meat

Japanese Sushi Eel “Unagi” | What it tastes like +Unadon recipe

Japanese sushi eel is called unagi, and is an essential part of Japanese cuisine. Unagi has a mouthwatering taste, especially when marinated and grilled.

In addition to this, Japanese sushi eel is particularly nutritious and comes with numerous health benefits.

If you have ever visited a Japanese sushi restaurant, there is a possibility that you have seen most of the sushi rolls have an ingredient known as unagi, also known as Japanese eel.

Even though an eel has a close resemblance to a snake, it is just a particular type of fish—and a very tasty one.

Many people have a natural repulsion to the thought of eating eel—and this also includes most of the passionate sushi lovers. They always shy away from the eel.

However, when you come across a normal eel dish, you will be surprised how it resembles any other fish meal.

And, when you happen to taste the soft meat of Japanese eel, you are likely to change your whole idea of eating unagi.

What does Japanese eel taste like?

Well, if you have ever eaten unagi, you are aware of its subtle, but yet sweet flavor, which is a bit chewy, and somehow reminiscent of raw salmon.

The taste of eel resembles salmon a bit

Other people say that its taste has a close resemblance to the taste of catfish. But, what you need to note is that unagi always has a good taste when served alongside an accompanying sauce or seasoning.

One thing you need to note about unagi is that readily absorbs the flavors of different sauces that are drizzled over it or even served on its side for dipping. One of the most popular condiments is eel sauce.

Eel will take on the taste of sauces used

This sauce is thick, sweet, and savory, which gives unagi an amazing taste of umami, as well as other maki rolls.

Also, you will need to note that the taste of unagi can be affected by how it is prepared and served. Smoked, deep-fried, or grilled methods are some of the most popular preparations of eel.

In Japan, unagi is an important part of the traditional cuisine—to the extent that there is a special day that’s dedicated to unagi.

When being prepared traditionally, unagi is butter-fried, marinated, and then grilled, or served on top of the donburi rice bowl.

Also read: all you wanted to know about sushi grade tuna

What are the health benefits of unagi?

As we highlighted earlier, unagi comes with tons of health benefits, as well as nutritional values. The fact that the Japanese consume unagi is probably another reason why Japan is one of the healthiest nations across the globe.

Health benefits of eel

First, you need to note that unagi comes with a wide variety of minerals and vitamins, and this includes vitamins A, D, E, B1, B2, B12, and phosphorus.

Phosphorous is essential to our bodies since it assists in balancing the PH levels in our bodies. In addition, it assists in improving metabolism and digestion, and also allows our bodies to absorb minerals better.

Moreover, the eel has a high content of omega-3. It assists in improving blood pressure, reducing cholesterol, and even reducing the risks of arthritis and diabetes.

In addition to these health benefits, unagi has other health benefits that are more specific to women.

These benefits include:

  • Reducing menstrual pain
  • Reducing wrinkles and improving skin health
  • Slowing down tumor growth
  • Lowering the risks of breast cancer
  • Improving blood flow to the brain
  • Boosting memory
  • And reducing any chances of dementia

Here are a few recipes for Japanese eel.

Tasty and nutritious Japanese sushi eel unagi recipe

Sushi Eel Unadon recipe

This is a classic Japanese dish, which consists of steamed rice, which is topped up with grilled eel fillets that are glazed with a sweetened soy-based sauce, also known as tare, and then caramelized over a charcoal fire (preferably).
Course Main Course
Cuisine Japanese
Keyword Eel, Rice
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Total Time 35 minutes
Servings 4 people
Author Sandy – Japanese Food Blogger
Cost $25


  • 2 fillets (320g) Unagi (eel)
  • 1 Japanese sansho pepper for topping (optional)
  • 4 cups white rice

Unagi sauce (tare)

  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • ¼ cup mirin
  • tbsp brown sugar
  • tbsp sake


Making the unagi sauce

  • In a small saucepan, add your sake, brown sugar, and mirin, and then turn on the heat to the medium setting, and then whisk your mixture.
    Add mirin and sake with brown sugar for unagi sauce
  • Add the soy sauce and allow it to boil. Once it has boiled, reduce the heat to a low setting and then allow it to simmer for an additional 10 minutes. As you come to the end of the cooking, you should be able to see more bubbles.
  • Now, you can turn off your stove and allow the sauce to cool—you will realize that the sauce has thickened as it cools. This sauce can be kept in an airtight jar for 2 weeks—but it must be refrigerated.
    Preserve the unagi sauce in an airtight jar

Preparing the unagi

  • First, you will need to preheat your oven to broil—550 degrees F or 290 degrees C for around 3 minutes. As your oven preheats, cut your unagi in half or third—this should depend on the size of your serving bowls.
  • Cook the rice in a cooking pot or rice steamer for about 8 minutes.
  • Line your baking sheet with an aluminum foil, and then brush a light layer of oil—you can place your unagi on the baking sheet.
    a tray of eel meat
  • Place the baking sheet on the mid rack of the oven and then broil on high heat for around 5 to 7 minutes—you don’t need to flip.
  • After the 7 minutes, take out the unagi, and then brush it over with the sauce.
  • Continue to broil for an additional 30 to 60 seconds or until you see some bubbles on top of your unagi.
  • Serve your cooked rice in a bowl and then brush or pour unagi sauce on top of the rice. Then, serve unagi on top of the rice and brush or pour more unagi sauce. You can also sprinkle some sansho—but this is optional.
    Serve the unadon immediately
  • Serve immediately.

Here are a few of the ingredients you might need to buy to make this dish:

Check out all of the authentic ingredients I use in all of my dishes here in my Japanese ingredients list.

Unadon is a short word for unagi (eel) and donburi (rice bowl dish).

The recipe requires a preparation time of 10 minutes, cooking time of 10 minutes. If you love Japanese food, your mouth will definitely water as you go through this recipe.

Recipe notes:

This is for the unagi sauce/tare: this is a third of the original recipe since it’s meant for 2 fillets.

Here is the original unagi sauce recipe


  • Soy sauce – ¾ cup
  • Mirin – ¾ cup
  • Sugar – ½ cup (125 g)
  • Sake – ¼ cup


  • Mix all the ingredients in a saucepan
  • Allow the sauce to simmer for 20 minutes or until it thickens—rather than the 10 minutes indicated above. You can store your unagi sauce in a refrigerator.

Re-heating your sauce: use a frying pan or an oven broiler. In case you don’t have an oven, consider using an oven toaster. 

Also read: teppanyaki seafood recipe that’ll make your mouth water

Unagi don recipe

a tray of japanese food


For the sauce

  • Sugar – 2 ½ tbsp.
  • Cooking sake – 1 ½ tbsp.
  • Soy sauce – 4 tbsp.
  • Mirin – 4 tbsp.

You will also need:

  • Rice – 200g
  • Water – 260 ml.
  • Eel fillets – 2 (skin-on)


  1. To prepare the sauce, you will need to mix the sake and mirin in a small saucepan, and then allow them to boil. Once they have boiled, reduce the heat and then add sugar and stir until it has completely dissolved. Then, add the soy sauce and allow it to boil. Reduce the heat and allow the sauce to simmer for around 10 minutes or until it thickens. When done, turn off the heat and then set it aside to cool.
  2. As your sauce cools, start preparing and cooking your rice—you can use your preferred rice preparation method. One of the recommended methods of cooking 200 g rice is to boil it with 260 ml of water—once you have washed it under cold running water.
  3. Next, preheat your grill to around 250 degrees C. Mostly, eel fillets come sliced in half lengthwise. So, you will just need to cut the eel fillets in half-widthwise so that they can fit on top of the rice bowl.
  4. Next, line your baking with an aluminum foil. Place the fillets on top of the baking sheet and then brush them with some vegetable oil. Put the baking sheet on your oven, and then grill for around 5 to 7 minutes, or they have turned brown.
  5. Remove your fillets from the oven and then brush the unagi sauce carefully—and make sure that you spare some sauce for later use. Put back the fillets on the grill and grill for an additional 1 minute.
  6. For serving, add a portion of your cooked rice in an empty bowl. Brush some unagi sauce on top of the rice, and then put some unagi fillets on top of the rice.

Additional tips:

  • If you want to experience and authentic unagi don experience, you can try to serve the dish in a two-tier bento lunch box, or jubako. When you serve the dish like this, it’s known as unaju.
  • Traditionally, eel is eaten during the summer in Japan. Since it’s rich in minerals, vitamins, and proteins, it is believed that the dish can produce increased stamina, which is highly needed in the hot days.

Read more: these are all the different types of sushi you need to know

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