What is Kabayaki Sauce, aka Eel Sauce?

by Jillian Giandurco

If you’re a fan of fish and Japanese food, then you’ve probably heard of kabayaki. If you haven’t, kabayaki is a common form of fish preparation in Japan that involves butterflying, gutting, and deboning the seafood before covering the fish in a sauce glaze. Kabayaki is most commonly used to prepare unagi eel, so even if you aren’t familiar with the term kabayaki, you might’ve heard it be referred to as eel sauce. If not, don’t fret, because this post will teach you everything you need to know about kabayaki AKA eel sauce!

What is Kabayaki?

To clarify, kabayaki isn’t a sauce – it’s a form of seafood preparation. Fish that’s being cooked kabayaki style needs to be cut down either the back or the belly so it can be gutted and rid of all its bones (this is called “butterflying”). Once the seafood has been deboned, the fish is cut into square filets, and the pieces are put on a skewer in a sweet soy sauce-based sauce before they hit the grill.

As mentioned, kabayaki is a rather common way to prepare unagi eel, but it can also be used on other long scaleless fish like catfish, loach, gunnels, pike conger, and conger eel, or anago. Anago are saltwater eels, as opposed to unagi eels, which are freshwater eels.

What is Kabayaki Sauce, or Eel Sauce?

Kikkoman Unagi Eel Sushi Sauce

The sauce that’s used in kabayaki-style cooking is a combination of soy sauce and a sweet Japanese rice wine called mirin with a hint of additional sugar. The mirin helps give the sauce a sweet tang, while the soy sauce adds a savory salty flavor for contrast, and the ingredients work together to create a unique umami taste. When cooked, the kabayaki sauce (also known as unagi sauce) gives the eel a crispy, crunchy exterior.

The Differences Between Kabayaki and Teriyaki

Kabayaki sauce is often compared to teriyaki sauce due to the fact that they both contain soy sauce and mirin. However, the two sauces definitely have their differences – kabayaki sticks to the three simple ingredients of mirin, soy sauce, and sugar, while teriyaki is also made with garlic, ginger, sesame, and sometimes citrus.

How To Make Eel Sauce

Though the entire process of kabayaki might be a little too difficult to do at home, making your own kabayaki sauce from the comfort of your own kitchen is so simple, and doesn’t take much time at all.

To make eel sauce, all you need to do is gather ½ cup of soy sauce, ½ cup of mirin, and ¼ cup of sugar. Then, pour all the ingredients into a saucepan and heat on medium-high until the mixture begins to boil. Simmer over low heat before removing the sauce from the stove, let the mixture cool for a few minutes, and voilà – you have unagi sauce!

Eel Sauce Recipe Ideas

You don’t need to be a fan of eel to enjoy kabayaki sauce – in fact, you don’t even need to eat fish at all. If you’re unsure how to incorporate eel sauce into your next meal, here’s a few ideas you can try.

For starters, eel sauce can also be used on vegetables that’ve been skewered and prepared on the grill, just like unagi. You can also switch out the teriyaki sauce in your chicken teriyaki since they are so similar, or use it in place of hoisin sauce in your next noodle dish.

Unagi sauce also makes for a great steak marinade, but if you want to step a little further outside your comfort zone, you can try drizzling eel sauce on your pizza, or use it in your next BBQ dish instead of barbecue sauce.

Eel Sauce Tips

Before you start adding eel sauce to everything, you should know that it only lasts for about two weeks in the fridge, so make sure to use it all up as fast as possible. Also, if you’d prefer to use a gluten-free alternative to your soy sauce, tamari makes for a great substitute. And if you can’t get your hands on mirin, your next best option should be aji-mirin, which is a delicious condiment that is designed to taste like the Japanese rice wine.

Kikkoman Manjo Aji-Mirin Cooking Wine

J-Basket Saba Kabayaki

Iwate Sanma Kabayaki

If you want to try kabayaki before making it at home, be sure to grab a pack of J-Basket Saba Kabayaki, which comes with broiled mackerel coated in eel sauce, or Iwate Sanma Kabayaki, which features the same unagi sauce, this time on a saury fish, online at Bokksu Market today!

Author Bio

Jillian Giandurco works primarily as a Trending News Writer for Elite Daily, where she writes about all things Food, Travel, and Tech related. Brands she has covered in the past include Kit Kat, Hershey’s, Expedia, and many more.