Foodstuff: Eel Sauce
Eel Sauce is a Japanese preparation sometimes known as ‘Nitsume’ or ‘Kabayaki Sauce’. While it is quite commonly used as a glaze for grilled eel dishes (indeed, the ‘Unagi’ on the bottle label means the freshwater eel commonly appearing on sushi menus), the name arises because it was traditionally made by making a stock by boiling eels and reducing it to a syrupy consistence. Nowadays, sugar, Mirin, sake and soy sauce are all commonly used in the basic recipe and Dashi often replaces eel stock.
I often think of Eel Sauce as being the Japanese equivalent of Chinese Oyster Sauce and the two can be used almost interchangeably. Indeed, the taste is very similar, although, some varieties, especially those made with Dashi, have a slightly smoky taste that goes very well with grilled foods…
Here is a little of the sauce in the bottom of a little bowl. With a larger amount, it is difficult to appreciate the color and consistency as it looks very much like very dark Blackstrap Molasses. Here, though, you can see the nice reddish color that makes the sauce look so attractive when used as a glaze.
The flavour, as I say, is very similar to Oyster Sauce, and has the same malty sweetness and no real discernibly ‘fishy’ taste. It can be somewhat salty (different versions are more or less so), and the smoky quality can be absent in some (that is the case with this brand) and quite strong in others. Probably, I can safely say that the differences between Oyster Sauce and Eel Sauce are no more pronounced than the differences between one brand of eel sauce and another.
Eel Sauce shines as a glaze for grilled foods and not just for fish or shellfish. One can, indeed, make a lovely Teriyaki style chicken preparation using nothing more than a little of the sauce brushed on chunks of chicken meat before grilling. In Japanese cuisine, the sauce doesn’t get quite the wide variety of use that Oyster Sauce does in Chinese cookery, but one can easily do a version of, say, Beef and Broccoli in Oyster Sauce using the Eel Sauce as a substitute.
Anyway, even if you can’t find Eel Sauce in local grocery stores, it is very easy to come by on-line and is well-worth investigating…