Eel Sauce

eel with eel sauce on top of rice
The Spruce / Pete Scherer
  • Total: 10 mins
  • Prep: 5 mins
  • Cook: 5 mins
  • Yield: Serves 4

Spoiler alert: eel sauce does not contain eel. Though this sauce is based on a Japanese sauce known as nitsume, which does contain eel broth, the sauce has been Americanized over time as Japanese cuisine has spread throughout the United States. This is a recipe, therefore, for the sauce that often accompanies the Japanese grilled eel known as unagi, as well as probably half the fancy rolls that are the staple of many of American sushi joints. The sauce is thick, sticky, salty, sweet, and deeply umami. You may have licked it off a plate once or twice before.

Easy to make, eel sauce is a simple reduction of only four ingredients: sake, mirin, sugar, and soy sauce. Easy to use, it’s flavor will enhance not only eel and sushi rolls, but a wide variety of other foods as well. Try it on everything from chicken wings to grilled eggplant, from beef to deep-fried tofu. We've even seen it drizzled on popcorn and eaten with a spoon.

Due to its sugar and salt content, the sauce keeps quite well, so don’t be afraid to make too much. You can even freeze it. Because of its depth of flavor and versatility, it’s a great sauce to have on hand to quickly dress up a simple dish.

One popular use of eel sauce is pictured here: an eel bowl, or unagi don. Though it may look somewhat intimidating at first glance, barbecued eel filet is readily available in the freezer section of many Asian grocery stores. Simply thaw, heat quickly in the broiler, place over a bowl of steamed rice, and drizzle with your homemade eel sauce. It’s a simple, flavorful dish that’s easy to make any night of the week or for a quick lunch.

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup mirin
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons sake (or Japanese rice wine)
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

  2. Add the mirin, soy sauce, sake, and granulated sugar to a small saucepan over medium heat.

  3. Stirring intermittently and bring the sauce to a low boil.

  4. Reduce the liquid by approximately one third. Remember it will thicken as it cools. Test a small amount on a plate as you might test jam. At room temperature, it should have the consistency of honey.

  5. When you’ve arrived at the proper consistency, remove from heat. Cool somewhat and use it as desired.

Tips

  • If the sauce comes out too thin, reduce it a bit more.
  • If you accidentally over-reduce it, simply add water a little at a time until the proper consistency is restored, and remember that it will thin a bit when heated.
  • Store in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to three months.