What Is Eel Sauce

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Karey Martin Modified: February 18, 2024
What Is Eel Sauce

When it comes to Japanese cuisine, there are many unique and delicious flavors to explore. One popular condiment that has gained popularity in recent years is eel sauce. If you've ever dined at a Japanese restaurant or tried a sushi roll, you may have encountered this sweet and savory sauce. But what exactly is eel sauce, and how is it used in cooking? Let's dive into the world of eel sauce and uncover its origins, ingredients, and culinary applications.

Origins of Eel Sauce

Eel sauce, also known as unagi sauce, originates from Japanese cuisine. Despite its name, eel sauce does not typically contain eel as an ingredient. Instead, it is a versatile glaze and dipping sauce that is commonly paired with grilled eel dishes, such as unagi (freshwater eel) sushi or kabayaki (grilled eel). Over time, eel sauce has found its way into various Japanese-inspired dishes, including sushi rolls, rice bowls, and grilled meats.


The key ingredients in eel sauce typically include:

  • Soy Sauce: Provides a salty and savory base for the sauce.
  • Mirin: A sweet rice wine that adds a subtle sweetness and depth of flavor.
  • Sugar: Contributes to the sauce's caramelized and syrupy consistency.
  • Sake: Adds complexity and depth to the flavor profile.
  • Rice Vinegar: Balances the sweetness with a hint of acidity.

Flavor Profile

Eel sauce is known for its rich, sweet, and umami-packed flavor profile. The combination of sweet and savory elements creates a well-balanced sauce that complements a variety of dishes. The sauce is often thick, sticky, and has a glossy appearance, making it perfect for drizzling over grilled meats or using as a dipping sauce for sushi.

Culinary Applications

Eel sauce is a versatile condiment that can be used in a variety of ways in the kitchen. Here are some popular culinary applications:

  1. Glazing: Eel sauce is commonly used as a glaze for grilled eel dishes, imparting a caramelized and flavorful coating.
  2. Sushi Rolls: It is frequently drizzled over sushi rolls, particularly those containing eel, avocado, or cream cheese, adding a sweet and savory contrast to the flavors.
  3. Rice Bowls: Eel sauce can be drizzled over rice bowls, such as unagi don (grilled eel over rice), to enhance the overall taste of the dish.
  4. Marinades: It can be used as a marinade for meats or seafood, adding a delicious caramelized flavor when grilled or broiled.

Making Eel Sauce at Home

If you're eager to incorporate eel sauce into your home cooking, you can easily make it from scratch. Here's a simple recipe to create your own eel sauce:

  • Ingredients:
    • 1/2 cup soy sauce
    • 1/2 cup mirin
    • 1/4 cup sugar
    • 2 tbsp sake
    • 1 tbsp rice vinegar
  • Instructions:
    1. In a saucepan, combine the soy sauce, mirin, sugar, sake, and rice vinegar.
    2. Bring the mixture to a gentle boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally.
    3. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened to a syrupy consistency.
    4. Remove the sauce from the heat and let it cool before using.

In Conclusion

Eel sauce, with its sweet and savory flavor profile, has become a beloved condiment in Japanese cuisine and beyond. Whether you're enjoying it as a glaze for grilled eel, a drizzle over sushi rolls, or a marinade for meats, eel sauce adds a delightful depth of flavor to a wide range of dishes. With its simple yet delicious ingredients, eel sauce is a versatile and easy-to-make condiment that can elevate your culinary creations. So, the next time you're looking to add a touch of umami-rich sweetness to your dishes, consider reaching for a bottle of eel sauce or trying your hand at making it from scratch.

What is eel sauce made of?
Eel sauce, also known as unagi tare, is made from a combination of soy sauce, mirin (a sweet rice wine), sugar, and sometimes sake. These ingredients are simmered together until the sauce thickens to a syrupy consistency.
Is eel sauce made from actual eel?
Despite its name, eel sauce does not contain any eel. It is a sweet and savory sauce commonly used in Japanese cuisine to accompany dishes like eel nigiri, sushi rolls, and grilled meats.
How is eel sauce used in cooking?
Eel sauce is often used as a glaze or drizzle for grilled or broiled eel dishes, giving them a sweet and savory flavor. It can also be used as a dipping sauce for sushi, sashimi, or tempura, adding a delicious umami kick to the dish.
Can eel sauce be used in other dishes besides eel?
Yes, eel sauce can be used in a variety of dishes beyond eel. It can be drizzled over grilled fish, chicken, or tofu, or used as a dipping sauce for spring rolls, dumplings, and even as a flavor enhancer for stir-fries.
Is eel sauce gluten-free?
Traditional eel sauce is not gluten-free as it contains soy sauce, which is made from fermented soybeans and wheat. However, gluten-free versions of eel sauce can be made using gluten-free soy sauce or tamari, allowing those with gluten sensitivities to enjoy its delicious flavor.
How long does eel sauce last?
When stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator, eel sauce can last for several weeks. It’s important to check for any signs of spoilage, such as changes in color, odor, or texture, before using it in your dishes.