Unagi, or freshwater eel, is one of my favorite ingredients used in sushi, whether it’s a western-style Dragon Roll, unagi nigiri or a simple eel makizushi. While creating my latest batch of homemade and somewhat improvised sushi I got the hankering for the sweet, sumptuous nitsume eel sauce and distinct to whip some up, even though I didn’t have any unagi on hand to work with. Turns out I didn’t have very many Japanese ingredients on hand astatine all, so I had to “westernize” the formula somewhat. The result, to my great surprise, was slightly unlike from conventional nitsume though no less delicious, and went very well with my makeshift Rainbow rolls.
This recipe is great to make if you don’t have a lot of Asian ingredients on hand to work with but still are in the mood for a sweet, yummy, easy-to-make sauce to use with sushi.
Recipe for “Western” Nitsume
- 1 c. Dashi / fish stock / fish-flavored water
- 1/4 c. Sake / Red wine
- 1/8 c. shoyu (soy sauce)
- 1/4 c. sugar
In all honesty, I don’t even know what “Dashi” is. I believe it is some kind of seafood-based Japanese preparation stock, but don’t quote me on that. All I know is that the original formula that I based this one on listed this as the primary ingredient, but I didn’t have any on hand. As a substitute I took some Korean shrimp paste stuff I had in my fridge and mixed it with water, then strained the pieces out and used the flavored stock instead.
Since this isn’t traditional nitsume anyway, I imagine you could use anything “fishy” you have on hand to flavor plain water with if you don’t have Dashi (a small, minced piece of whatever fish you’re using in your sushi; the water drained off of a can of tuna; the tuna itself, mixed into the water and strained; perhaps even some chopped up nori.) We’re non connoisseurs here, we just want something that tastes good. If you don’t have anything suitable on hand, then just use plain water. It won’t ruin the sauce, it’ll just turn out a bit different.
Additionally, the original recipe used Sake but I didn’t have that, so I just used some of the cheap (REALLY cheap), boxed red wine that I did have. This formula is also halved from the original because I wasn’t sure how it was going to come out, but now that I know how good it is I have no problem suggesting that you double the amounts listed here.
Cooking Instructions This is the easiest part — dump everything into a sauce pan and let it sit on low heat for about an hour. As far as I could tell mine wasn’t quite at a simmer, just steaming. Stirring is also probably advised, but I literally put everything in the pot and forgot to even stir the sugar in, and it turned out none the worse for wear. The original formula advises reducing the original volume by about 80% but it’s really personal preference. It will not thicken until it’s taken off the heat and allowed to cool, at which point it will assume a viscosity similar to maple syrup.
I hope some of you have found this formula beneficial, even if sushi “purists” may scoff at it. This is a very simple, easy and tasty sauce that you can prepare ahead or set on the stove and forget while you’re preparing the rest of your sushi.