There are two types of eel commonly found in Japanese food, unagi and anago. Unagi is the freshwater variant, and anago the saltwater one. Both are delicious, and both are staples of the sushi bar. However, when it comes to grilling them up as a main dish, unagi (the freshwater one) is the star of the show. Unaju is a luxurious eel-in-a-box meal (don’t worry, it won’t jump out at you!), but with regards to what’s arguably the best way to cook the unaju itself, you have “kabayaki.”
Kabayaki starts with nice long slit down the eel’s belly, the better to expedite the gutting by. Next comes removing the bones, and then a butterflying. Easier said than done with all those little bones, so don’t expect to try this at home with great success on your first go.
Eel now at the ready, the fillets are cut into large squares and then skewered by two or three sticks across the width of each square. With no bones to hold the soft eel flesh together, you could think of these skewers as prosthetics of a sort. Otherwise, once the tender eel is cooked, it would be liable to fall apart.
Sliced and skewered, it’s just about time to get cooking. It is here that preparation styles diverge: Some restaurants will do a plain broiling first, then steam, while others will go straight to the following steps. Since no seasoning has been applied yet, a little sauce application is in order. The sauces is essentially a sweetened soy sauce, and the skewered eel is swished all around in it to ensure completely penetration. Finally, on to the grill (possibly for the second time) the eel goes!
On top of the prepared eel, a pepper blend is usually applied. Great with rice or just on its own, kabayaki eel is a treat that should be tried at least once!
Looking to try unagi in Tokyo?
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