Peppery Smoked Eel Sushi

Anago-Zushi

If you’ve never tried smoked eel before, you’ll be surprised at how rich and meaty this rather delicately textured fish can be. Several varieties of precooked smoked eel are available in Oriental food stores, usually stored in the freezer case. For this particular dish anago is the best choice, though unagi is fine too. Some brands of eel come packed with their own tare, or sauce, but since not all do, I’ve included a recipe for making a simple soy glaze.

Ingredients

  • 4 ounces anago or unagi (cooked smoked eel)

Taré

Sauce

  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons mirin (syrupy rice wine)
  • 1 teaspoon wasabi (Japanese horseradish) powder
  • 1 teaspoon cold water
  • cups shari (seasoned rice for sushi)
  • 1 tablespoon sanshō no mi (pepper berries), crushed or scant ½ teaspoon sanshō (fragrant Japanese pepper)
  • 1 tablespoon amazu shōga (pink pickled ginger) or beni shōga (red pickled ginger)

Method

  1. Defrost the smoked eel in your refrigerator. Brush the flesh side with some of the glazing sauce, then place it under a broiler for 2 minutes. Paint additional glazing sauce over the eel, broil another minute, and paint again. Let the eel come to room temperature.
  2. If your package of eel did not have additional sauce, make some by combining the soy sauce and syrupy rice wine in a small saucepan. Simmer over medium heat 6-7 minutes until foamy and slightly thickened. Skim off the pale froth. Allow the glaze-like sauce to cool in the pan (any leftovers will keep well for several days if covered and refrigerated).
  3. Line a glass or metal loaf, pâté, or terrine pan with clear plastic wrap. (The Japanese have a special box-shaped mold for shaping this kind of sushi; it is described here for those who wish to use one.) Make sure the wrap extends well beyond the sides of the mold or pan. Arrange the eel, flesh down and skin side up, on the bottom of the mold or pan. Trim and patch the strip of eel, if necessary, to cover the bottom entirely.
  4. Mix the horseradish powder with the cold water to make a paste. Spread this paste evenly over the eel skin.
  5. Fill the mold or pan with the seasoned rice, pressing with moistened fingers to compact the rice and make it even. Fold the clear plastic wrap over the rice.
  6. Cut a piece of heavy cardboard to fit inside your pan (this is in lieu of the lid piece of a Japanese mold). Place heavy objects, such as cans, jars, or potatoes, on the lid to weight it down. Five to 8 pounds of pressure, evenly distributed, is ideal.
  7. Allow the sushi to sit for at least 1 hour, or up to 5 or 6 hours, in a cool spot in your kitchen. When you are ready to unmold it, remove the weights and invert the mold. For cleaner, sharper edges, slice the sushi into smaller pieces while it is still wrapped. Slice the loaf lengthwise, then across five times, to yield one dozen pieces in all. Wipe your knife on a damp cloth between slices. Unwrap the sushi and paint the top of each piece with a bit of sauce. Then garnish each piece with a few crushed pepper berries or a generous sprinkling of fragrant pepper.
  8. Serve with pink or red pickled ginger on the side. No additional soy sauce is needed.

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