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Nitsume “unagi” eel sauce: salty sweet sushi sauce glaze recipe

by Joost Nusselder | Updated:  October 9, 2022

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Nitsume is a sauce that’s used for sushi a lot but often gets overlooked when making sushi yourself AND can be used in a lot of other dishes as well.

That’s because it’s actually used for glazing the fish, mostly eel. So you don’t see it on your plate, but you can certainly taste it.

Today I’ll show you exactly how to get that great sweet-salty flavor.

Nitsume eel sauce

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How to make nitsume eel sauce

Homemade Eel Sauce recipe

Homemade nitsume eel sauce recipe

Joost Nusselder
Reading a recipe can be helpful in understanding exactly what eel sauce is. Here's a recipe that makes for a foolproof way for you to prepare this exotic sauce right in the comfort of your own home.
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 1 min
Cook Time 15 mins
Total Time 16 mins
Course Side Dish
Cuisine Japanese
Servings 4 people
Calories 120 kcal

Ingredients
  

  • ½ cup soy sauce
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ cup mirin (Japanese sweet wine)

Instructions
 

  • Heat ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook and stir until liquid is reduced to ¾ cup. Let it cool slightly so it becomes slightly sticky.
  • To get the consistency right, you can also add water or a cornstarch slurry. Keep in mind that the sauce will thicken as it cools, so it may be best to wait a bit before adding thickening or thinning agents.
  • Note: You can use any measurements you choose, as long as the ingredients are added in equal parts.
  • There are variations on eel sauce including nitsume, unagi, and kabayaki. Adding ingredients like rice vinegar, dashi, sake, or eel eggs can help you produce a taste that's similar to these variations. You can also add more sugar to produce a sweeter taste.

Nutrition

Calories: 120kcal
Keyword Eel, Sauce, Sushi
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

Best mirin substitute for nitsume eel sauce

If you’re looking for a delicious and authentic nitsume eel sauce, but don’t have access to mirin, never fear! There are plenty of other ingredients that can be used as a substitute. Here are some of the best options:

  1. Sake: it’s a Japanese rice wine that is often used in cooking. It has a similar flavor profile to mirin, making it a great choice for nitsume eel sauce. It doesn’t have the sweetness, though, so adding a little teaspoon of honey could compensate for that. You also probably want to add the sake to the pan first because it has a higher alcohol content. That way you can make sure it evaporates.
  2. I realize you probably don’t have sake either, so this one might be in your fridge or pantry already. A little dry white wine. Combine this one with extra sugar and get about the same thickness and taste for you eel sauce.

How to use eel sauce

Eel sauce can be used in a variety of ways. It’s commonly used to flavor sushi, particularly varieties with eel in them.

It also tastes great over grilled fish, freshwater and saltwater eel, noodles, and chicken.

Can you make eel sauce without mirin?

If you’re out of mirin, there are several other ingredients you can use instead. Dry sherry and sweet marsala wine will do in a pinch.

You can also use dry white wine or vinegar, but you’ll have to add more sugar to counter the acidic taste. Adding ½ tsp sugar for every tsp of the ingredient you use should do the trick.

How long does eel sauce last?

Store-bought eel sauce lasts for several months when unopened because it contains preservatives.

Once it’s opened, it should be placed in the refrigerator. From there, you can expect it to last 2 weeks.

It can also be frozen if you don’t use it very often.

Conclusion

You can use nitsume for so many fish dishes, it’s a wonderful staple to have and actually pretty easy to make once you get the right ingredients.

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Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.