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Unagi (eel) / Japanese Cuisine

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Grilled unagi is a relatively expensive delicacy in Japan, prized not only for its flavor but also for its legendary stamina-giving properties.
It's traditionally eaten during the hottest part of the summer (on the "Day of the Ox" on the lunar calendar) to provide strength and vitality for the rest of the year.
http://apicache.gnavi.co.jp/image/rest/index.php?img=k033400w.jpg&sid=k033400

Well-prepared unagi combines a rich flavor, a bit like pate, with an appetizing texture, crisp on the outside but succulent and tender on the inside. The cooking process is what makes the eel crisp and tender: The eels are first grilled over hot charcoal, then steamed to remove excess fat, then seasoned with a sweetish sauce and grilled a second time. In the Kansai area (around Osaka) the steaming step is omitted and the eel is grilled longer, burning off the excess fat and producing an even crisper skin.

The ingredients in the sweet basting sauce are important to the final taste of the unagi, and different restaurants maintain their own secret recipes. The quality of the charcoal used is also important: The best charcoal is made from hard oak from Wakayama in central Japan, and the aromatic smoke adds a special flavor to the eel as it's grilling.

As for the eels themselves, the best are caught wild rather than bred in eel farms, with the ideal size between 30 and 50 centimeters. Fancy unagi restaurants keep tanks full of live eels, and they don't begin preparing your eel until after you've ordered. This process requires a bit of time and patience, but you're guaranteed completely fresh eel, and the results ate well worth the wait.
Unagi restaurants can be recognized by an elongated (う) character (the first character in 'unagi'), fashioned to resemble an eel and displayed prominently on the shop sign or curtain.

Unagi Dishes

Grilled unagi on skewers without rice is called kabayaki, and it's often served as an hors d'oeuvre with drinks. This same grilled unagi is also served over a bed of rice as a main course, and this comes in two varieties, called unaju and unagi donburi. Each variety comes in several different sizes.

Eel grilled without sauce is called shirayaki. This plain form of eel is most popular with diehard unagi purists. When you order a full-course eel meal you'll be served kimosui, a clear soup made from eel livers. The livers themselves are very nutritious, although not everyone enjoys the taste.

At the table you may lightly sprinkle your unagi with sansho, an aromatic Japanese pepper whose powdered form is most often found on unagi-restaurant tables.

Unagi Sample Menu

Note: Uppercase letters represent long vowel sounds. (See pronunciation guide below.)

Eel Dishes

Unagi Teishoku うなぎ定食・鰻定食
eel set meal, with skewered grilled eel, rice, pickles, and miso or eel-liver soup
http://shizen.utsuwa-kaede.com/images/DSCN1899.JPG

Una-Zukushi うなずくし
full-course eel meal (usually larger than unagi teishoku)
http://mydo653338.sh.shopserve.jp/pic-labo/22.jpg http://blogimg.goo.ne.jp/user_image/3f/0e/e48adc9ac658d20dc97e85bd40e60b77.jpg

* unadon -- grilled eel over rice うな丼・鰻丼
* unajU -- grilled eel "piled" over rice (larger than unadon) うな重・鰻 重
* jo unaju -- deluxe unajuu 上うな重
* kimoyaki -- grilled eel livers with grated radish 肝焼
* kabayaki -- grilled eel on skewers (without rice) 蒲焼
* ikada(yaki) -- "raft-style" eels, lined up and skewered side-by-side いかだ(焼)
* shirayaki -- "white" eel, grilled plain without sauce しらやき・白焼
* unatama-jU -- eel and cooked egg over rice うなたま重
* kimosui -- clear soup made from eel livers 肝吸い
* umaki -- grilled eel wrapped in cooked egg う巻
* uzaku -- grilled eel and cucumber in a soy-vinegar sauce うざく
* yawata-maki -- grilled eel rolled around burdock strips やわた巻・八幡巻
* unagi-zushi -- small pieces of broiled eel over fingers of rice 鰻鮨・ うなぎ寿司

By JS on Dec 11, 2010
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tag : Unagi, Eel, Japanese Cuisine

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