Hey! This site is reader-supported and we earn commissions if you purchase products from retailers after clicking on a link from our site.
If you’re a lover of sushi, you’ve probably had a taste of eel, and enjoyed its unique flavours. But there are many different ways to cook and prepare eel. If you love the presence of potent flavours with a zing of spiciness, then let’s take a look at the many and delicious ways to cook eel, for you and your family to enjoy.
Table of Contents
- What is Eel?
- Are Eels Bad for You?
- What do Eels Taste Like?
- Different Ways to Cook Eel
- Types of Eel
- How to Cook Eel?
- How to Make Unagi Sauce?
- Eel Recipes
- So How to Cook Eel?
What is Eel?
Eels have a dark and snakelike appearance, with a taste comparable to lobster, salmon or squid. It is naturally sweet and has a soft yet slightly firm texture, providing a nice chewiness, depending on how well it has been cooked. Eels work well with overpowering flavours, whilst retaining their original taste. Whether you boil or steam them, it’ll create a deliciously soft and tender meat for many to enjoy.
Are Eels Bad for You?
As long as the eel is appropriately prepared and cooked thoroughly, it is perfectly fine to eat. During the preparation process the eel is filleted and drained of its blood, and then the heat from cooking destroys the harmful toxins in the meat.
Eels shouldn’t be consumed raw at all, because their blood is so toxic to humans it must be cooked through before eaten. Even the slightest smidge of eel blood is lethal.
What do Eels Taste Like?
Eel has a phenomenal taste that is firm, chewy and tender. Saltwater eel meat may appear tougher than freshwater eel meat, as it has thick skin that can be quite challenging to chew. Eel meat is very absorbent, and many chefs prepare its meat by marinating it with tasty sauces and spices, to bring forth delectable flavours.
If you’re a fan of the taste and texture of squid, then you might like eel. Some have compared its taste and texture to snake, frog or even chicken.
Different Ways to Cook Eel
Much like other varieties of meat, eels can be prepared and cooked in many delicious and traditional ways. Here are some of the ways that eel is cooked, prepared and served:
In Japan unagi don is the most popular eel dish, it is essentially a bowl of rice topped with eel. The preparation of eel is called kabayaki, where the fish is split down its back or belly, gutted and boned, butterflied, and cut into fillets. Finally, the fish is skewered, dipped in a soy sauce-based sauce and then grilled.
At many sushi restaurants in Japan, eel sushi is a popular delicacy. Grilled eel is placed onto vineyard rice and sometimes wrapped in seaweed. Often sushi is accompanied with soy sauce or wasabi. However, for eel a special soy-sauce based sauce is brushed over the top.
The eel is filleted and cut into bite-sized pieces, then placed into a tempura-batter of flour, eggs and water and deep-fried at 170 to 180C. Tempura is then garnished with sea salt, a squeeze of lemon, and a special soy-based sauce.
Grilled eel or Jangeo-gui is a popular Korean cuisine. The eel are cut into large pieces before grilling. As the eel grills it is brushed with a special marinade. Sometimes the eel is marinated in a sauce beforehand and then grilled. Jangeo-gui is usually served with sliced ginger and perilla leaves.
Eels are boiled in a spiced stock, left to cool and set into a jelly. Jellied eels are often eaten with savoury pies, mashed potatoes, and a parsley sauce made with stock.
The eels are gutted and cleaned before being smoked. In some cases, the eels are brined before smoking to add more flavour. The eel becomes deliciously juicy with a light, sweet and subtle smoky flavour. Smoked eel is considered a delicacy in many countries so it can be expensive. They are perfect for salads, served on toast or mixed in your favourite rice dishes.
Types of Eel
There are over 18 varieties of eel living in the depth of the worlds waters, out of those, only two have been popular amongst many cuisines. In Japanese cuisine, freshwater eel or unagi and marine eel are commonly used in foods such as unadon. Eels are also very popular in Chinese cuisine.
How to Cook Eel?
Love it or hate it, eel is a deliciously chewy, flaky and delectable meat that can be prepared in variety of ways. If you’re purchasing eel from a supermarket, you can cook it the moment you’ve bought it home. You can roast, fry or bake the eel, with the flavourings to suit your liking. Here’s how to cook eel:
For this method you’re going to need 1 eel fillet, 1 teaspoon of salt and 3 teaspoons of vegetable oil.
Start by preheating your oven to 375F, as this will allow you to prepare the eel while the oven gradually reaches the appropriate temperature.
Pat the eel dry using paper towels, make sure you have cleaned all the blood from the meat, throwing away the tissues immediately. Rub 1 teaspoon of salt over the eel, using your hand to massage the salt into the flesh of the eel. coat the outside and the inside of the eel with salt. Use 1 teaspoon of salt per number of eels you plan to cook. So for 2 eels you’ll need 2 teaspoons of salt.
Place the eel into a large skillet, and drizzle the meat with 3 teaspoons of vegetable oil or olive oil if you will. Place the skillet into the oven and roast the eel for 25 to 30 minutes. Once the eel is cooked, the skin will have browned indicating that it is ready to eat.
Top the eel with a drizzle of lemon, a pinch of salt and pepper and any other sauce or garnish you want. Any leftovers should be kept in an airtight container and refrigerated for up to 3 to 4 days.
For smoked eels, you’re going to need 1 eel fillet, apple or alder wood chips, 0.95 litres of water and a 1/4 cup of salt.
To make the brine combine the water with salt in a large bowl. Add your choice of herbs like oregano, rosemary or parsley, to flavour the eel. For additional flavour, squeeze some lemon juice into the brine for some additional taste.
Fully submerge the eel in the brine overnight and place it in the refrigerator, allowing it to soak undisturbed for the night. If you plan to soak the eel during the day then allow it to remain submerged for 8 to 10 hours. Set the smoke to 185C. Eel meat is delicate and needs to smoked at low temperature. Alder and apple are both mild, sweet woods that will compliment the light flavour of the eel.
Hang the eel fillets to smoke, or tie a thin rope around the heads and hang the fillets by the head to smoke. Lay the fillets belly facing up, so that the interior of the eel can cook thoroughly. Smoke the eel for 90 minutes, removing them from the smoker once they’ve turned brown. Serve the browned fillets immediately.
For fried eel fillets, you’ll need 2 eel fillets, 50 grams of cornflour, 100 grams of white flour, 2 bay leaves 1/2 cup of peanut oil and salt.
Using a sharp knife, start by cutting the fillets into 6cm chunks, leave the skin intact. If the fillets have the heads and tails attach, cut these off and discard them. Place the sliced eel pieces into a colander, and rinse them off in the kitchen sink. lightly toss the eel as you’re rinsing to make sure that it is fully rinsed.
Combine the two types of flour in a large bowl. Pick up the eel pieces individually and set each one into the bowl of flour. Use your fingers to roll the eel chunk over in the flour mixture until all sides are thoroughly coated. Set each piece aside, ready for frying.
Pour 1/2 a cup of peanut oil into a large skillet, use a large lid to cover the skillet whilst frying the fillets so that the oil doesn’t splatter. Fry the eels over low heat for 10 minutes. Since eel is a delicate meat, high heat will cause the fillet pieces to burn.
Place the fried eels on a paper towel to cool. Then sprinkle them with a light dusting of salt and serve immediately.
How to Make Unagi Sauce?
Eel sauce or unagi sauce is a thick and sweetened soy sauce that is commonly used on grilled eel or different dishes that include grilled eel. Making this sauce at home, is actually pretty simple, as you’ll only need 4 ingredients. The great thing about making this sauce at home, is that you get to control the levels of sweet and saltiness in the finished sauce. And don’t think that this sauce is reserved for eel meat, oh no! Unagi sauce works great with grilled fish, grilled beef, tofu, grilled mushrooms and more. Here’s how to make this spectacular sauce:
- 1/4 cup mirin
- 1 1/2 tbsp sake
- 2 1/2 tbsp sugar
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
In a small saucepan, add the mirin, sake, and sugar. Turn on the heat to medium and whisk all the ingredients together. Then add the soy sauce and bring it to a boil. Once it’s boiling reduce the heat to low and allow it to simmer for 10 minutes. Towards the end of cooking you’ll notice some more bubbles. Turn off the heat and let it cool, the sauce will thicken.
Looking for some inspiration when it comes to creating interesting and delicious eel recipes, then you might want to take a dive at some of these below:
- Garlic and Pepper Eel Stew
- Steamed Eel with Black Beans
Garlic and Pepper Eel Stew
A recipe so simple, yet so rich will have you recreating this dish every week for dinner! For this dish you’ll need:
- 1.2kg eel
- 5 tsp extra virgin oil
- 1 tsp paprika
- 2 chopped garlic cloves
- 50g ground almond
- Pinch of cayenne pepper
- 1 cup grated tomato
- 1.2l water
- 0.5kg potatoes
Wash and clean the eel well and cut it into bite-sized pieces. Heat the oil in a saucepan and add a mixture of paprika, garlic, ground almond and cayenne pepper. After half a minute add the grated tomato and water. Bring it to a boil then add the eel and chopped potatoes. Simmer for 15 minutes then serve immediately.
Steamed Eel with Black Beans
This bowl of eel filled fun, combined with black beans creates the perfect evening meal. For this recipe you’ll need:
- 600g of fresh eel
- Sea salt
- 1 piece aged tangerine peel
- 10g salted black beans
- 2-3 peeled garlic cloves
- 3-4 thin slices of peeled ginger
- 2 chillies
- 15ml soy sauce
- 10ml rice wine
- 5g granulated sugar
- 15ml cooking oil
- 2-3 spring onions
- Fresh coriander
Sprinkle and rub the salt into the eel skin, leave it for 30 minutes then use the back of the knife to scrape the skin and remove the slime. If the eel feels slippery, add more salt and repeat the process. Rinse the eel and dry with paper towels. Cut the eel into cross sections and place them cut side up in a wide, shallow heat-proof bowl. While the eel is salting, briefly rinse the black beans and tangerine peel under cold water then place them in separate bowls. Add enough warm water to cover the black beans, add some warm water to the tangerine peel so that it can float freely.
After 20 minutes cut the peel into very thin slices, then drain the black beans and chop them roughly. Thinly slice the garlic and cut the chillies into thin circles. Stir the soy sauce with the rice wine and pour this all over the eel. Place this over a tiered steamer set over boiling water, cover with a lid and steam for 10 minutes or until the eel is cooked. While the eel is steaming, slice the spring onions and heat some oil in a pan. Remove the eel from the steamer and top with spring onions and coriander. Pour the oil over the herbs so that they sag. Serve instantly with steamed rice and roasted veggies.
So How to Cook Eel?
Eel can be cooked in many ways, you can fry, steam or bake your eel fillet. Make sure that your eel is thoroughly cooked, because consuming raw eel is lethal.
How do You Prepare Eels to Eat?
Slit the skin, then pull the skin back, cut off the head, push all the guts to one side of the eel, cut the membrane along one side of the backbone, move the guts further over and cut the membrane on the other side of the backbone, then the guts will fall out and can be discarded.
Why Should You Not Eat Eel?
You shouldn’t eat eel if it hasn’t been thoroughly cleaned of its blood, because it is poisonous and contains a toxin that cramps muscles including the heart.
How do You Cook Eels Safely?
Clean the eels thoroughly, patting it dry with paper towels, and discarding them. Then cut the eel into chunks and marinate with salt, or your choices of spices.
Does Eel Need to be Cooked?
Eel must be cooked, and is normally prepared grilled or steamed. Most sushi chefs refrain from cooking eel, because if it hasn’t been done properly the flavours become unpleasant and the texture rough, which if consumed can lead to lethal poisoning.