Unagi Nigiri

unagi nigiri

A little pile of seasoned sushi rice is topped with grilled eel slices in the traditional Japanese sushi meal, unagi nigiri. Sushi lovers all over the world can’t get enough of this delicious combination of flavors.

The freshwater eel, or unagi, has a delicate texture and a rich taste. The sushi rice strikes the ideal ratio between sweetness and acidity. When served with a dollop of eel sauce, unagi nigiri is a sensory overload.

Why You’ll Love This

A distinct and tasty sushi experience is provided by unagi nigiri, which mixes perfectly seasoned sushi rice with the richness of grilled eel. Sushi enthusiasts worldwide appreciate this dish because it perfectly balances savory, sweet, and umami in every bite. Eat unagi nigiri on its own or as a component of a sushi platter, and it will definitely satiate your desire for real Japanese food.

unagi nigiri

What Kitchen Tools Are Needed For This Recipe

To prepare unagi nigiri at home, you’ll need the following kitchen tools:


  • Bamboo sushi mat
  • Sharp knife
  • Cutting board
  • Saucepan
  • Rice cooker or pot for cooking sushi rice

These basic tools will help you assemble and prepare the ingredients with ease, ensuring that your unagi nigiri turns out perfectly every time.

What Ingredients Are Needed

To make unagi nigiri, you will need the following ingredients:

  • Freshwater eel (unagi)
  • Sushi rice
  • Rice vinegar
  • Sugar
  • Salt
  • Nori (optional, for garnish)
  • Eel sauce (for drizzling)

These simple yet essential ingredients come together to create a mouthwatering sushi delicacy that is sure to impress your family and friends.

How To Make It

Here’s how to make delicious unagi nigiri at home:

  1. Prepare the sushi rice: Rinse the sushi rice under cold water until the water runs clear. Cook the rice according to the package instructions, then let it cool slightly.

2. Season the rice: In a small bowl, mix rice vinegar, sugar, and salt until dissolved. Gently fold the vinegar mixture into the cooked rice until evenly coated. Allow the rice to cool completely.

3. Grill the eel: Preheat your grill or broiler to medium-high heat. Brush the eel with eel sauce and grill for 3-4 minutes on each side, or until the eel is cooked through and slightly caramelized.

4. Slice the eel: Once the eel is cooked, thinly slice it into strips that will fit comfortably on top of the sushi rice.

5. Form the nigiri: Moisten your hands with water and grab a small handful of seasoned sushi rice. Press the rice firmly between your palms to form a compact oval-shaped mound. Place a slice of grilled eel on top of the rice and gently press it down to adhere.

6. Drizzle with eel sauce: Just before serving, drizzle the unagi nigiri with eel sauce for an extra burst of flavor.

7. Garnish and serve: If desired, garnish the unagi nigiri with thin strips of nori for added visual appeal. Serve immediately and enjoy!

Helpful Tips

  • Keep a little bowl of water close by so you may wet your palms as needed to stop the rice from sticking to your hands.
  • Use enough eel sauce to baste the grilled eel to improve its flavor and caramelization.
  • Try using sushi-grade eel from a reliable fish shop for a more genuine touch.
  • To achieve the ideal flavor balance for your sushi rice, try varying the amounts of sugar, salt, and rice vinegar.

History Behind This Recipe

The origins of unagi nigiri are in Japanese culinary customs, where eel has long been a delicacy that gives people energy and stamina. Eel was first grilled over an open flame and served over seasoned rice in Japan during the Edo era (1603–1868). With time, this straightforward but delicious dish—praised for its superb taste and sophisticated presentation—became a global mainstay at sushi restaurants.

Substitutions And Variations

Although freshwater eel is typical in unagi nigiri, you can experiment with other eel varieties or seafood to produce interesting flavor combinations. For a unique take on this traditional dish, try replacing the eel with another grilled or raw fish, like yellowtail, salmon, or tuna. To further suit your tastes, you can add different toppings and garnishes to your nigiri, such avocado slices, sesame seeds, or spicy mayo.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What does eel taste like?

  • Eel has a rich, savory flavor with hints of sweetness and a buttery texture. When grilled, eel develops a caramelized exterior that adds depth and complexity to its taste profile.

What Does Eel Sauce Taste Like?

  • Eel sauce, also known as unagi sauce or kabayaki sauce, is a sweet and savory condiment made from soy sauce, mirin (sweet rice wine), sugar, and sake (Japanese rice wine). It has a thick, syrupy consistency and a complex flavor profile that combines sweetness, umami, and a hint of tanginess.

Is Eel Good For You?

  • Eel is a nutritious source of protein, vitamins, and minerals, including vitamin A, vitamin E, calcium, and omega-3 fatty acids. However, it is important to consume eel in moderation due to its relatively high cholesterol and fat content.

Do Eels Have Bones?

  • Unlike many other fish, eels have a complex bone structure known as “grit” or “pin bones” that runs along their length. You can remove these bones during the cleaning and filleting process to make eel more palatable and easier to eat.

Is Eel Sauce Made From Eels?

  • Despite its name, eel sauce does not contain actual eel as an ingredient. It is primarily made from a combination of soy sauce, mirin, sugar, and sake, which are simmered together to create a thick, flavorful sauce that complements grilled eel and sushi dishes.

What Is The Difference In Nigiri Vs Sashimi?

  • Nigiri and sashimi are both traditional Japanese dishes featuring raw fish, but they differ in their presentation and preparation. Nigiri consists of thinly sliced raw fish served atop small mounds of seasoned sushi rice, while sashimi consists of thinly sliced raw fish served without rice.
unagi nigiri

What Is Sushi?

  • Sushi is a Japanese dish consisting of vinegared rice combined with various ingredients, such as seafood, vegetables, and nori (seaweed), and often served with soy sauce, wasabi, and pickled ginger. Sushi comes in a variety of forms, including rolls (maki), nigiri, sashimi, and hand rolls (temaki).

What Is Nigiri?

  • Nigiri is a type of sushi that is small oblong-shaped mounds of seasoned sushi rice topped with thinly sliced raw or cooked seafood, such as fish, shrimp, or eel. Eat nigiri with a dab of wasabi between the rice and the topping. Garnish with a strip of nori for added flavor and texture.

Storage Instructions

The flavor and texture of unagi nigiri are best to enjoy right after preparing. Should you have any leftovers, keep them refrigerated for up to 24 hours in an airtight container.

Do not freeze unagi nigiri since doing so can affect the eel’s and sushi rice’s flavor.

Reheat leftover unagi nigiri by steaming it for a short while or gently warming it in the microwave, being cautious not to overheat the rice or eel. It’s important to eat warmed sushi right away to maintain food safety and flavor.

unagi nigiri

Unagi Nigiri

Author: Maddy & JD – Them Bites
Unagi Nigiri is a Japanese sushi made with barbecue eel on top of hand formed sushi rice resulting in a sweet and savory delicious bite.
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Course dinner, Lunch
Cuisine Japanese
Servings 6 servings
Calories 114 kcal


  • 1 bbq eel*
  • 1 cup sushi rice
  • nori seaweed cut into ½ inch thick, ~ 3 inches long
  • unagi sauce

Recipe Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 350℉. If the eel is whole, cut into equal pieces, about 1 inch in diameter.
  • Make a small boat with aluminum foil, lightly oil and add eel. Warm in oven for roughly 10 minutes.
  • Wet your hands and take enough sushi rice to fit into the palm of your hand, about 2 – 3 tbsp. Gently squeezing, form into small oblong shaped pieces.
  • Place the eel on top of your rice. Take a nori strip and wrap around the middle. Top with a small dollop of unagi sauce.


*You can find whole cooked barbecue eel in the frozen section of most Asian markets.


Calories: 114kcalCarbohydrates: 25gProtein: 2gFat: 0.2gSaturated Fat: 0.03gPolyunsaturated Fat: 0.1gMonounsaturated Fat: 0.1gSodium: 2mgPotassium: 24mgFiber: 1gCalcium: 3mgIron: 0.5mg
Keyword salmon sushi bake, Unagi nigiri
Tried this recipe?Mention @thembitesrecipes or tag #thembites

Similar Posts

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning we receive a commission if you make a purchase using these links, at no extra cost to you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recipe Rating