Continuing My Japanese Street Festival at Home with Broiled Unagi Donburi
Days after my feast at the Japanese street festival I am still left with an insane craving for another bowl unagi donburi. Donburi literally means “bowl”, it is usually a Japanese “rice bowl dish” consisting of fish, meat, or vegetables served over white rice topped with the simmering sauce. In this case an unagi donburi is a grilled eel on white rice served in a bowl.
Unagi is a freshwater eel, not only is it prized for it’s flavor, it is also high in protein, calcium and full of vitamins; it has been known to give people stamina. Traditionally, unagi is an expensive delicacy in Japan usually eaten during the summer on the “Day of the Ox” to symbolize strength and vitality for the rest of the year.
The most common preparation of unagi is called “unagi no kabayaki”. The eel is first grilled over charcoal, steamed to remove the excess fat, basted with a sweetish sauce and finally grilled or broiled a second time. The texture of a well prepared unagi is more like a pate, it has a crispy exterior but the meat is succulent and tender. The ingredients of the sweet basting sauce is important to the final flavor of the eel, every cook/restaurant has their own secret recipe. The quality of the charcoal also plays a key role in creating the smoky flavor of the eel.
The process of preparing the unagi no kabayaki is difficult and time consuming. Usually, this is a dish that I will order at a Japanese restaurant but recently I discovered that you can buy frozen vacuum packaged unagi no kabayaki in Asian markets. It will usually come in a package looking like this. It’s definitely nothing like the fresh unagi that you get in a restaurant but I think this particular brand does a pretty good job of keeping the integrity of the fish and has great flavor. The best way to use the frozen unary eel is to defrost the unagi package in the refrigerator. Please do not leave it out on your counter all day to defrost. I did that once and the eel ended up tasting like mush, and was kind of stinky. It might take 5 to 6 hours but it’s worth the wait. The unagi is cooked already so all you have to do once it’s defrosted is broil the eel to get that crispy exterior texture. Broiling is simple: crank up the broiler up to 500 degrees F, place the eel on the highest rack, and broil for a few minutes of both sides.
The best part about making the unagi rice bowl with frozen unagi is that you can store the frozen package in your freezer for up to three months. It takes no time at all to prepare, so you can have it whenever you want. . All you need to do is cook up some rice, and broil the unagi. Done and done. Now if you are like me and love a fried egg on top of anything and everything, this is perfect time to throw one in. The runny yolk from the egg adds a nice creamy texture to every bite, and infused with the sweet basting sauce makes the rice even more luscious. If you have never had unagi donburi, I highly recommend you try this recipe!
Cheers and until next time happy broiling!
Broiled Unagi Donburi (Japanese Broiled Eel Rice Bowl)
1 package frozen unagi eel
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup mirin (Japanese sweet rice wine)
3 tbsp sugar
Steamed White Rice
adapted from epicurious
1 cup jasmine rice
1 1/2 cups water
2 tbsp oil
salt and pepper
1. For the Kabayaki Sauce: In a small saucepan over medium heat, stir together the Kabayaki Sauce ingredients. When the sauce starts to bubble, immediately turn the heat down to low and let it simmer for 4 to 5 minutes. The consistency should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon but still run off, be careful not to over cook as the sauce can get too thick very quickly. If it does become too thick, just add a tablespoon of water at a time.
2. For the steamed rice: Wash the rice in several changes of cold water in a bowl until the water runs clear, then pour out the water. Combine with the 1 1/2 cup of water in a 2 quart saucepan. Bring it to a boil, then reduce heat to low and cook, covered, until rice is tender and water has been absorbed, 10-15 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, for at least 10 minutes. Fluff with fork
3. For the frozen unagi eel: Turn your broiler on and set to 500 degrees F. Line a broiler pan with aluminum foil. Take the unagi out of the package and place it on the foil. Broil unagi the skin side first for a few minutes, turn over and broil the other side for a few minutes.
4. for the fried egg: Place a small non-stick frying pan over medium heat, add the oil, making sure it does not sizzle. When you start to see a light haze over the pan, crack the egg into a small bowl, gently slide the egg into the frying pan and cover with a lid. Cook for about 5 minutes until the egg whites solidify and the bottoms are light brown and crispy. When your egg is done, sprinkle with freshly cracked black pepper and salt.
5. To serve: fill a bowl with the steamed rice, place the broiled unagi and fried egg on top and drizzle with Kabayaki sauce.