A sustainable replacement for unagi (freshwater eel)

Recipe by: Kin Lui, Raymond Ho and Casson Trenor

Kin and Raymond are the chefs/owners and Casson is the seafood sustainability consultant of Tataki Sushi & Sake Bar in San Francisco, California.

(Serves 8)

Sablefish is available May through October
1 1/2 pounds sablefish fillet
1 large sheet konbu (kelp)
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons mirin
1 1/2 tablespoons sake
1 handful katsuobushi (skipjack flakes)
Potato starch
Sea salt
Sesame seeds
Extra sake
Extra water
Steamed rice


Dust both sides of the sablefish fillets with sea salt. Cover the fillets in plastic wrap and transfer to the refrigerator. Let sit for 15 to 20 minutes.

Wash salt off the fillets with very cold water. Blot dry with a paper towel.

Tear the konbu into pieces the size of your fillets. Wet a new paper towel with sake and use it to moisten the konbu. Sandwich the sablefish between pieces of sake-moistened konbu. Cover the fillet in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 to 40 minutes. Remove the konbu and return the fillet to the refrigerator.

Mix the soy sauce, sugar, mirin and katsuobushi with 1 1/2 tablespoons of sake, and 1 1/2 tablespoons of water, in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for about 10 minutes. Drain and remove the katsuobushi then set the sauce aside.

In a small bowl, combine 8 tablespoons of cold water with 2 tablespoons of potato starch to create a thickener (add the water to the potato starch gradually, whisking constantly to avoid clumping). Return the soy/mirin sauce to a boil then lower heat to a simmer. If desired, add the potato starch thickener to the sauce, gradually, until the desired consistency is reached. (Some people may choose to add very little or no thickener—you definitely won’t want to use it all, but it’s easier to mix a large batch.) Remove from heat and let cool.

To serve:

Slice sablefish into portions approximately 1 inch wide by 2 inches long. Lightly char one side of the fish with a small butane torch or sear it very briefly in a hot saucepan. Top fish with a drizzle of the sauce and a sprinkle of sesame seeds. Serve slices of faux-nagi over bowls of hot steamed rice. You can also serve this nigari style as they do at Tataki.

Hints from the chef:

Sablefish doesn’t come in “sushi grade.” Just look for the freshest fish possible (this might mean fish that was frozen immediately after it was caught). The rule is if it smells fishy, it’s no longer fresh.
Konbu, mirin, sake and katsuobushi can be found at Asian markets.

Recipe courtesy of Seafood Watch ® a registered service mark of the Monterrey Bay Aquarium Foundation.

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