Last updated: 19 Jul 2023 | 1039 Views |
Delve into a culinary journey through the heart of Japan with one of its most beloved delicacies, Unagi Kabayaki. A savory and sweet dish that embodies the soul of traditional Japanese cooking, unagi kabayaki blends culinary artistry with cultural heritage. From the very specific freshwater eel species used, the intricate cooking method, the all-important kabayaki sauce to the regions renowned for it - each aspect of unagi kabayaki tells a story. As you explore the world of unagi kabayaki, you will discover a dish that is more than just a sumptuous meal, but a culinary tradition, an emblem of Japanese culture, and an experience that tantalizes all senses.
Unagi is the Japanese term for freshwater eel, specifically the species known as ‘Anguilla japonica’. This eel is a beloved delicacy in Japan, particularly in the summer months when it is thought to provide stamina during the heat. The Anguilla japonica species has a long, snake-like body and is known for its rich, buttery flesh. It's a highly nutritious protein source and is also rich in vitamins A and E.
History and Culture
Unagi holds a significant place in Japanese culinary history. It dates back to the Edo period (1603–1867) when the method of grilling eel, known as "Kabayaki", was developed. Its consumption is especially popular during the midsummer day of the Ox, based on the Chinese lunar calendar, which is believed to prevent heat exhaustion. Unagi kabayaki is often served over a bed of rice in a lacquered box, called unaju, or with rice in a bowl, called unadon.
Unagi kabayaki involves a special cooking method that contributes to its unique taste. The eel is first gutted and boned, then cut open, skewered, and grilled without seasoning. After the initial grilling, it's basted with kabayaki sauce and grilled again, repeating this process multiple times. This technique brings out the savory flavor of the eel and the rich sweetness of the sauce, resulting in a beautifully caramelized and tender delicacy.
The key to perfect unagi kabayaki is the kabayaki sauce also known as tare sauce, a sweet and savory glaze that pairs perfectly with the rich flavor of the eel. This sauce is traditionally made from a combination of soy sauce, mirin (sweet rice wine), sugar, and sake (rice wine). The ingredients are simmered together until they reduce to a thick, syrupy consistency that beautifully coats and caramelizes the eel during grilling.
Unagi in Japan
Unagi kabayaki is enjoyed throughout Japan, but it's particularly famous in certain regions. Shizuoka Prefecture, located in the Chubu region, is known as Japan's leading producer of unagi. Here, Hamamatsu city is particularly famous for its unagi dishes, serving up its unique style of kabayaki, known as "Hamamatsu-style". In this method, the eel is steamed before grilling, which makes it more tender and helps the sauce penetrate better.
Another notable place for unagi is Nagoya in the Aichi Prefecture, where a special dish known as "Hitsumabushi" is popular. Hitsumabushi is a style of serving unagi where the grilled eel is chopped into small pieces.
Different Forms of Unagi Dishes
Apart from unagi kabayaki, there are other popular unagi dishes in Japan like Shirayaki (grilled unagi without sauce), Kimosui (a soup made from unagi liver), and Umaki (unagi wrapped in an omelette).