Sushi Ingredients - Sushi Fish - Eel

Eel (Unagi)

Anguilla japonica

Also see: Eel Sushi in Sushi Menu

Eel is best during early Autumn. They live in fresh water for 5~10 years and they swim towards the ocean to lay eggs during this season. It is these eel that taste the best. Unlike regular fish, fresh water fish smell exceptionally good when they are grilled with soy sauce and sugar. It is known that the amino acid methionine in the soy sauce, sugar, and hypericin in eel create a scent that triggers hunger when they are grilled together. From the early days, ungai restaurants vented the smoke they created towards the streets to gather customers.

Depending on the season, some eel have bellies with shades of gold, and they where initially called munagi, or yellow chest. This name has been altered to plain ungai after the 1700’s.

Three different preparations of ell exist in Japan. The first is the Tokyo style (thus used for sushi), The Osaka style, and the plain shiroyaki or “white grill”. The Tokyo style is unique for its steaming involved in the process (please see Eel Sushi), and filleting it from the back. The Osaka style butterflies the eel from the stomach and keeps the head on. It is then grilled over open flame and then basted with sauce. Grilled eel in Osaka has a firmer flesh than the fragile and flaky Tokyo style. “White Grill” is simply grilled eel with salt, but it is eaten with wasabi, or grated daikon radish.