• Unagi no kabayaki (Food Safari Water)Source: Food Safari Water

'Unagi' is the Japanese word for 'eel', and this particular one-bowl donburi dish tops servings of white rice with fillets of freshly grilled eel, all seasoned with a homemade sauce of soy, sake and mirin. Food Safari Water






Skill level

Average: 3.5 (28 votes)


  • 800 g eel, filleted and bones reserved


  • 5 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp rice flour
  • 1 apple, peeled, cored and chopped
  • 1 carrot, peeled and chopped
  • ½ cabbage, chopped
  • 1 small knob ginger, sliced
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar

Kabayaki sauce

  • 1 eel bone 
  • 300 ml mirin
  • 100 ml sake
  • 120 g raw sugar
  • 120 g white sugar
  • 350 ml Japanese soy sauce

To serve 

  • Steamed rice, very finely sliced spring onion, very finely sliced omelette, finely sliced cucumber and sansho pepper leaves

Cook's notes

Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.


Standing time: 2-3 days for the pickles

For the pickles, place the salt, rice flour and 1 litre water in a saucepan. Stir to combine and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Place the apple, carrot, cabbage, ginger and garlic in a large jar, pour over the cooled pickling liquid, seal and stand at room temperature for 2-3 days or until starting to ferment. Add the apple cider vinegar and shake gently to combine. The pickles will keep refrigerated for up to 3 weeks.

For the kabayaki sauce, cook the eel bone over charcoal until brown, but not burned. Place the mirin and sake in a saucepan and bring to the boil for about 10 seconds to burn off the alcohol. Add both the sugars and the eel bone, then the soy sauce. Bring to the boil and simmer for 15-20 minutes or until slightly reduced.

Place the eel, skin-side up on a wire rack over a tray. Pour boiling water over the eel skin, then scrape with the back of a knife to remove the slimy coating. Cut the eel into 10 cm pieces.
Steam in a pressure cooker for about 2 minutes. If you don’t have a pressure cooker you can just cook the eel in a regular steamer for 10 minutes.

Skewer the fillets in 3 places between the flesh and skin along the grain. Grill over coals, starting flesh side down for 5-10 minutes, turning regularly. Baste the flesh side only with the kabayaki sauce for 4-5 times or until lightly glazed. Glaze the eel skin and turn skin side down for 10 seconds over coals. Don’t let it burn. Repeat three more times. Glaze the flesh and skin one more time. This whole process should take no more than 15 minutes but this really depends on the heat of your coals and the thickness of the eel.

Remove from the grill and slice into thin strips. Serve with steamed rice, pickles, spring onion, omelette, cucumber and sansho leaves with a little extra kabayaki sauce drizzled over the top.


Maeve O'Meara is back in Food Safari Water airing 7.30pm Wednesday nights on SBS and then you can catch-up on all episodes via SBS On Demand. Visit the program page for recipes, videos and more.