Unagi Sauce (Eel Sauce)

By: MeganPosted: 21/08/2023 Updated: 12/04/2024
Prep 5 minutes
Cook 10 minutes
Total 15 minutes
Sweet, salty, savory, unagi sauce, or eel sauce, adds a rich and flavorful glaze over perfectly grilled eel. This easy homemade unagi sauce recipe is made with only four ingredients.
Unagi Sauce (Eel Sauce)

Sweet, salty, savory, unagi sauce, or eel sauce, adds a rich and flavorful glaze over a perfectly grilled eel. This easy homemade unagi sauce recipe is made with only four ingredients.

A bowl of eel sauce on a table near unagi sushi.

Unagi sauce (うなぎのたれ), also known as eel sauce, is the beautifully thick, glossy sweet, and savory glaze that is typically brushed onto Japanese grilled eel dishes. Eel sauce is made with only soy sauce, mirin, sake, and sugar for a well-balanced, rich, and flavorful sauce.

Homemade eel sauce is 100% worth the effort. This eel sauce recipe is really easy to make and can be completed in under 15 minutes! The benefit of making your own Japanese eel sauce at home is that you will know exactly what is in it and you can easily customize the sweetness levels based on your preferences.

This unagi sauce recipe can also be used in and on basically anything that you can think of such as a sauce for stir-fries, rice bowls, noodle bowls, or a glaze for unagi sushi, and yaki onigiri. You can even use it as the glaze for our spam musubi.

Up close with a piece of unagi sushi on a plate topped with toasted sesame seeds.

What is eel sauce?

Eel sauce, or unagi sauce (うなぎのたれ), is a thickened, sweetened soy sauce that is used in Japanese cuisine to enhance the flavor of grilled eel (unagi). Japanese eel sauce ingredients are composed of soy sauce, mirin, sake, and sugar. It has a rich, glossy, syrupy texture, and a sweet and savory well-balanced taste profile. You can use eel sauce on top of unagi sushi, unadon (unagi rice bowl), stir-fries, or as a condiment.

A spoonful of unagi sauce being lifted from a bowl of eel sauce.

Why You’ll Love This Recipe

Here are a few reasons why you’ll love this homemade eel sauce recipe.

  • Balanced flavors: made with only four ingredients, this unagi sauce strikes the perfect harmonious balance between savory and sweet flavors.
  • Versatile: you can use this homemade unagi sauce recipe on grilled meats, seafood, grilled eel, sushi rolls, vegetables and so much more.
  • Quick and easy: you can complete this recipe for Japanese eel sauce with 3 easy steps in under 15 minutes!

Kitchen Equipment

All you need for this homemade unagi sauce recipe are the following items of kitchen equipment.

  • Small saucepan: you will need a small saucepan to reduce and thicken the eel sauce ingredients.
  • Jar with lid: if you are planning to make this Japanese eel sauce in advance, you will need a jar with a resealable lid to store it in.

Ingredients

You will need only 4 easy to find ingredients for this eel sauce recipe. I’ve linked some of the ingredients below.

  • Mirin: mirin has a sweet and tangy flavor with a syrup-like consistency. The mirin adds a sweet component to the homemade eel sauce.
  • Sake: sake is a clean-tasting, slightly sweet alcoholic drink with a savory finish. It has a slightly fruity and nutty aroma. It adds umami and complexity to the unagi sauce.
  • Sugar: the granulated white sugar, sweetens the eel sauce while also acting as a thickening agent when cooked down.
  • Soy Sauce: make sure to use Japanese soy sauce instead of Chinese, Korean, or Thai soy sauce. Soy sauce is the base of the sauce that adds the savory umami flavor.
All the ingredients to make unagi sauce for eel sushi.

Substitutions and Additions

Since this homemade unagi sauce recipe only has a few ingredients there are not many changes you can make. I’ve listed one suggestion for a gluten-free alternative below.

  • Tamari sauce: if you are looking for a gluten-free unagi sauce, use tamari instead of soy sauce.

How to Make Unagi Sauce

Here are the easy steps on how to make this homemade unagi sauce recipe.

  1. Mix the sauce. In a small saucepan, add the mirin and sake over medium heat. Mix to combine. Bring to a boil and then cook for an additional 2 minutes to burn off the alcohol.
Sake and mirin cooking the alcohol off in a sauce pan.
  1. Add soy sauce and sugar. Add the soy sauce and sugar and mix to combine until the sugar dissolves. Lower the heat to medium-low and gently simmer the sauce while stirring occasionally for about 10-12 minutes or until the sauce reduces by half and thickens.
Sake, mirin, sugar, and soy sauce simmering in a sauce pan.
  1. Cool. Remove the homemade eel sauce from the heat and let it cool. The sauce will thicken as it cools.
A small bowl of unagi sauce on a table.

Tips for the Best Unagi Sauce

  • Heat the sake and mirin first. Heating the sake and mirin first gives it time to burn off the alcohol.
  • Simmer on low heat. Make sure to simmer the sauce on low to medium-low heat. You want to see small bubbles only to prevent the sugar from burning and quickly turning the sauce bitter.
  • The sauce is done when it coats the back of a wooden spoon. You will know when the eel sauce is done when you dip a wooden spoon into the sauce and it coats the back of a wooden spoon with a slightly thickened glaze.
  • Refrigerate after using: if you have any leftovers, do not leave the sauce at room temperature. Refrigerate any leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Storage Instructions

You can store this homemade eel sauce in an airtight jar in the refrigerator for up to 3 months.

How to Serve Unagi Sauce

Traditionally, Japanese eel sauce is used on unagi dishes such as unagi nigiri sushi, dragon sushi rolls, or unagi rice bowls (unadon). You can also use it as a glaze for your yaki onigiri (grilled rice balls). Or you can use it in any of the following ways below.

  • Glaze for grilled protein or tofu
  • Sauce for any rice or noodle bowl
  • Sauce for vegetable stir-fries
  • A dip or drizzle condiment for dumplings, tempura, vegetables, or protein.
Brushing unagi sauce onto unagi before baking.

Frequently Asked Q’s & A’s

What does eel sauce taste like?

Eel sauce has a sweet, salty, and savory flavor. It is made with the same ingredients as teriyaki sauce but with different proportions. The flavor of eel sauce is slightly richer and less sweet than teriyaki sauce.

What is eel sauce made of?

This recipe for eel sauce is made with mirin, sake, sugar, and soy sauce.

Does eel sauce contain eel?

No, despite the name eel sauce does not contain eel. “Eel sauce” comes from the fact that it is traditionally used as a glaze in Japanese eel dishes.

Is unagi sauce vegetarian?

Yes, homemade unagi sauce is a vegan condiment since it is made with only soy sauce, mirin, sake, and sugar. It does not contain any animal products. However, commercial eel sauces sold in stores may contain animal products such as eel bones or fish stock.

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Unagi sauce in a bowl with unagi sushi nearby.

Unagi Sauce (Eel Sauce)

5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 15 minutes
Sweet, salty, savory, unagi sauce, or eel sauce, adds a rich and flavorful glaze over perfectly grilled eel. This easy homemade unagi sauce recipe is made with only four ingredients.
Servings: 10 servings
Print Recipe

Ingredients

Instructions

  • Mix the sauce. In a small saucepan, add the mirin and sake over medium heat. Mix to combine. Bring to a boil and then cook for an additional 2 minutes to burn off the alcohol.
  • Add soy sauce and sugar. Add the soy sauce and sugar and mix to combine until the sugar dissolves. Lower the heat to medium low and gently simmer the sauce while stirring occasionally for about 10-12 minutes or until the sauce reduces by half and thickens.
  • Cool. Remove the sauce from the heat and let it cool. The sauce will thicken as it cools.

Notes

  • Heat the sake and mirin first. Heating the sake and mirin first gives it time to burn off the alcohol.
  • Simmer on low heat. Make sure to simmer the sauce on low heat. You want to see small bubbles only to prevent the sugar from burning and quickly turning the sauce bitter.
  • Refrigerate after using: if you have any leftovers, do not leave the sauce at room temperature. Refrigerate any leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
  • Storage Instructions: You can store this homemade eel sauce in an airtight jar in the refrigerator for up to 3 months.

Nutrition:

Calories: 35kcal | Carbohydrates: 8g | Protein: 1g | Fat: 0.02g | Saturated Fat: 0.001g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.004g | Monounsaturated Fat: 0.001g | Sodium: 520mg | Potassium: 18mg | Fiber: 0.1g | Sugar: 6g | Calcium: 2mg | Iron: 0.2mg

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