Unagi Sushi (Eel Sushi)

By: MeganPosted: 17/08/2023 Updated: 28/11/2023
Prep 25 minutes
Cook 15 minutes
Total 40 minutes
Unagi sushi is made with Japanese bbq grilled freshwater eel, a savory unagi sauce, and seasoned sushi rice. This unagi nigiri recipe has a rich sweet savory flavor that is incredibly satisfying.
Unagi Sushi (Eel Sushi)

Unagi sushi is made with Japanese bbq grilled freshwater eel, a sweet and savory unagi sauce, and seasoned sushi rice. This unagi nigiri recipe has a rich sweet savory flavor that is incredibly satisfying.

A plate of several eel sushi pieces surrounded by table settings.

Unagi sushi, also known as eel sushi or unagi nigiri, is made with a tender Japanese grilled freshwater eel that is brushed with a rich and savory unagi sauce on top of a soft bed of seasoned sushi rice and delicately bound with a thin ribbon of seaweed for the most stunningly delicious bite. This unagi sushi recipe is incredibly easy since the eel is already pre-cooked and packaged.

From selecting the best ingredients to mastering the art of shaping the rice and slicing the eel, this post will detail all you’ll need to know to create this unagi nigiri masterpiece. So let’s impress your friends and family with this easy-to-make yet beautiful unagi sushi recipe.

Unagi is nothing without the most delectable unagi sauce that coats it. You can find our recipe for the most delicious unagi sauce here. And if you are looking for more sushi inspiration check out our hamachi crudo, spicy tuna crispy rice, and crispy rice salmon.

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

What is Unagi?

Unagi is the Japanese word for freshwater eel. It is a popular ingredient in Japanese cuisine that is known for its unique flavor, tender texture, and rich nutrients. Unagi is typically grilled and then glazed with a sweet and savory thick teriyaki sauce that enhances the eel’s natural flavors. The grilling caramelizes the sauce and gives the eel a smoky charred flavor.

Unagi is also known for its nutritional benefits. It is a good source of protein, vitamins, and minerals. It is particularly rich in vitamin E, omega-3 fatty acids, and other essential nutrients. Unagi is typically known for dishes such as unadon, an eel-topped rice bowl, unagi roll, a sushi roll stuffed with unagi, and unagi nigiri, where the eel is placed on top of a small mound of sushi rice and then garnished with a thin strip of nori (seaweed).

Looking down at a plate of several unagi sushi pieces.

Why You’ll Love This Recipe

If you love unagi, there is no doubt that you will love this unagi sushi recipe. Here are a few reasons why you should make this recipe:

  1. Umami explosion: unagi has rich, umami-packed flavors that pair perfectly with the unagi glaze that coats it. Together it creates a complex, satisfying, and unforgettable flavor profile.
  2. Elegant and cost-effective: if you want to impress a date or your family and friends, unagi nigiri is a treat for both eyes and your taste buds. Plus, it costs significantly less to make eel sushi at home!
  3. Easy to make: since unagi is most commonly sold in Japanese stores already pre-cooked, this makes this sushi with eel incredibly easy to make.
Up close with a piece of unagi sushi topped with toasted sesame seeds.

Kitchen Equipment

You will need the following items of kitchen equipment to make this unagi nigiri recipe.

  • Rice Cooker: you will need a rice cooker to cook your rice. Alternatively, you can cook your rice in a pot on your stove.
  • Baking Sheet: a baking sheet is needed to warm up the prepared eel.
  • Sharp Knife: a sushi knife would be ideal, but you can use a newly sharpened knife as well.
  • Mixing Bowls: you will use mixing bowls to season your sushi rice.
  • Basting Brush: a basting brush is necessary to add additional unagi sauce on top of your eel sushi.

Ingredients

All of the following ingredients can be found at your local Japanese grocery store or Asian grocery store.

  • Unagi: unagi or bbq grilled freshwater eel is sold in Japanese grocery stores and some Asian grocery stores in the frozen aisle. Some will come pre-packaged with the unagi sauce.
A frozen package of grilled unagi eel.
  • Unagi Sauce: you can either create your own homemade unagi sauce or buy premade unagi sauce.
  • Sushi Rice: you will need short-grain or medium-grain sushi rice. Sushi rice has more starch and thus is stickier and will hold its shape when you mold it.
  • Rice Vinegar: rice vinegar adds a delicate, mild sweet acidic flavor to the rice.
  • Sugar: sugar sweetens and balances the acidity of the rice vinegar.
  • Salt: a pinch of salt seasons the sushi rice.
  • Nori Seaweed Sheet: the nori seaweed sheet will be used to bind the unagi to the rice
  • Toasted sesame seeds: sprinkle on some toasted sesame seeds for garnish and added crunch and nutty flavor.
All the sushi ingredients to combine with unagi for unagi sushi.

Substitutions and Additions

You can personalize this unagi nigiri with the following substitutions or additions.

  • Teriyaki sauce: if you do not have unagi sauce, you can alternatively use teriyaki sauce.
  • Cucumber: if you’d like to freshen up your eel sushi, add a slice of cucumber in between the rice and the eel.
  • Avocado: for an additional creamy texture, add small slices of avocado in between the sushi with eel.
  • Wasabi: for a spicy kick, add a small dollop of wasabi in between the unagi and the rice.

How to Make Unagi Sushi

Here are the steps on how to make unagi sushi at home!

  1. Cook the rice. Wash the rice until the water runs clear. Add the washed rice and water to your rice cooker and cook.
  2. Season the rice. In a small mixing bowl, mix together the rice vinegar, sugar, and salt until the sugar dissolves. Then drizzle the mixture over the cooked rice and carefully mix it with a rice paddle until combined.
Seasoning sushi rice.
  1. Cook the unagi. Place the unagi onto an aluminum lined baking tray and bake at 350°F (176°C) for 15 minutes or according to the package instruction.
Brushing unagi sauce onto unagi before baking.
  1. Slice the unagi. Using a sharp knife, slice the unagi longwise down the middle. Then unagi against the grain holding the knife at a 45-degree angle. Cut the eel diagonally into about 3-inch long and 1-inch wide pieces.
  1. Shape the rice. Wet your hand with water and place about 1 tablespoon of seasoned rice into your palm. Squeeze your fingers over the rice, rotate and squeeze again and repeat until you create small oval pieces.
  1. Assemble. Place the thinly sliced eel on top of the rice and lightly brush the top with unagi sauce. Wrap a thin strip of nori around the middle and garnish with sesame seeds.
Up close with a piece of unagi sushi topped with toasted sesame seeds.
  1. Serve. Serve the unagi nigiri with soy sauce, wasabi, and ginger. Enjoy!

Tips for the Best Unagi Sushi

  • Use warm rice: be sure to use freshly, cooked warm rice when forming the mounds. If you use cold rice, the rice will most likely fall apart and not stick together.
  • Wet your hands: the sushi rice is incredibly sticky. The only way you can mold the rice with your hands is if you wet your hands between each ball of rice.
  • Use a sharp knife: the easiest way to cleanly cut the unagi is to use a freshly sharpened knife or a sushi knife. Make sure to use one long swift cut and try your best to not move in a sawing motion.

Storage Instructions

This unagi sushi recipe is best served immediately. You can store any leftover eel sushi in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one day.

Reheat: the rice will dry out and slightly harden in the refrigerator. To reheat, sprinkle a few drops of water onto the rice, cover, and microwave until warm.

Frequently Asked Q’s & A’s

Where can I buy unagi?

You can buy unagi at a Japanese market or Asian grocery stores that sell seafood. I have found frozen unagi at Mitsuwa and Tokyo Central.

Is eel sushi healthy?

Yes! Unagi is also known for its nutritional benefits. It is a good source of protein, vitamins, and minerals. It is particularly rich in vitamin E, omega-3 fatty acids, and other essential nutrients.

Can unagi be eaten raw?

No, unagi always comes pre-cooked and grilled. The baking instructions are there to reheat the unagi and provide texture. Eel blood has toxins that can be poisonous if eaten raw.

What is unagi sushi made of?

Unagi sushi, or unagi nigiri, is made with bbq grilled freshwater eel, unagi sauce, seasoned sushi rice, and nori seaweed.

Are eel and unagi the same?

Yes! Unagi is the Japanese term for eel.

Additional sushi recipes to try

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A plate of several unagi sushi pieces.

Unagi Sushi (Eel Sushi)

5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 25 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes
Unagi sushi is made with Japanese bbq grilled freshwater eel, a savory unagi sauce, and seasoned sushi rice. This unagi nigiri recipe has a rich sweet savory flavor that is incredibly satisfying.
Servings: 16 pieces
Print Recipe

Ingredients

Unagi

Sushi Rice

Garnish

Instructions

  • Cook the rice. Wash the rice until the water runs clear. Add the washed rice and water to your rice cooker and cook.
  • Season the rice. In a small mixing bowl, mix together the rice vinegar, sugar, and salt until the sugar dissolves. Then drizzle the mixture over the cooked rice and carefully mix it with a rice paddle until combined.
  • Cook the unagi. Place the unagi onto an aluminum lined baking tray and bake at 350°F (176°C) for 15 minutes or according to the package instruction.
  • Slice the unagi. Using a sharp knife, slice the unagi longwise down the middle. Then unagi against the grain holding the knife at a 45-degree angle. Cut the eel diagonally into about 3-inch long and 1-inch wide pieces.
  • Shape the rice. Wet your hand with water and place about 1 tablespoon of seasoned rice into your palm. Squeeze your fingers over the rice, rotate and squeeze again and repeat until you create small oval pieces.
  • Assemble. Place the thinly sliced eel on top of the rice and lightly brush the top with unagi sauce. Wrap a thin strip of nori around the middle and garnish with sesame seeds.
  • Serve. Serve the unagi nigiri with soy sauce, wasabi, and ginger. Enjoy!

Notes

  • Use warm rice: be sure to use freshly, cooked warm rice when forming the mounds. If you use cold rice, the rice will most likely fall apart and not stick together.
  • Wet your hands: the sushi rice is incredibly sticky. The only way you can mold the rice with your hands is if you wet your hands between each ball of rice.
  • Use a sharp knife: the easiest way to cleanly cut the unagi is to use a freshly sharpened knife. Make sure to use one long swift cut and try your best to not move in a sawing motion.
  • Storage Instructions: This unagi sushi recipe is best served immediately. You can store any leftover eel sushi in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one day.

Nutrition:

Calories: 73kcal | Carbohydrates: 10g | Protein: 3g | Fat: 2g | Saturated Fat: 0.3g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.2g | Monounsaturated Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 18mg | Sodium: 45mg | Potassium: 48mg | Fiber: 0.3g | Sugar: 0.4g | Vitamin A: 493IU | Vitamin C: 0.3mg | Calcium: 4mg | Iron: 0.3mg

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