Barbeque Unagi Eel is a seafood dish that is wildly popular in Japan, and is now making its way to sushi restaurans all over the US. Although eel is a very common ingredient in Asia, it is pretty bizarre for most countries in the world. In Japan, many restaurants specifically specialize in freshwater unagi eel, and don’t have much else on the menu. The highest quality eel comes from Lake Hamana in Hamamatsu City, where it is wildly caught and sold to fish markets around the world. Rhonda and myself are both huge fans of eel despite the fact that it looks like something out of a deep sea horror movie.
Traditionally, unagi eel is served over a bed of white rice. But many sushi restaurants cut it into chunks while raw, and serve it as sashimi. Basic BBQ unagi eel is skinned and marinated in a combination of sesame oil, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, scallions, salt, and chives. After marinading overnight, the eel is either grilled or broiled until it becomes crisp on the outside. Many people have different perceptions of the taste of unagi eel. I find it to have a very mellow, lightly fishy taste that usually takes on the flavor of whatever it is marinaded in. My first encounter with freshwater eel was at a crappy fast food Japanese restaurant in downstate Illinois. Although the eel sashimi was steamed before serving instead of raw, I just couldn’t get enough of it. I kept on coming back just to order their crappy eel sashimi.
Rhonda’s Commentary: I honestly can’t remember the first time I had eel, though I know I was somewhat skeptical about trying it. I started off with eel sushi rolls here in the U.S. While living in Asia, barbecue eel served over steamed rice or by itself was a favorite among locals and it became something I enjoyed eating as well. It’s tangy and sweet and if people avoid thinking about it too much, I’m sure most (aside from my vegetarian friends, of course) would enjoy the taste of Unagi.
Freshwater Eel BBQ Unagi Recipe:
- 1/2 lb raw freshwater eel filets
- 1t salt
- 3T chopped fresh chives
- 3 chopped scallions
- 2T rice wine vinegar
- 2T sesame oil
- 1T soy sauce
Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl and marinate overnight. Remove the eel from the marinade, and grill over a charcoal flame until it reaches medium-well doneness. Serve the eel over a bed of white rice and top it off with additional chives. For another twist, you can also cut the eel into chunks while raw and make sashimi with it.