What is the Best Substitute for Eel Sauce?

by Charlie

Here’s the first thing we strongly feel you should know: Eel sauce doesn’t contain eel. Whoever that named this thing intended to confuse you, but we promise to help you make sense of it all. Just keep reading.

Now, eel sauce is one of those food condiments you can use with any meal. Yes, any meal. You’ll see. As glorious as that may be, it will not be available every time for one reason or the other. In times like this, the onus lies on you as the cook/chef, to replace the missing condiment with a worthy substitute.

What is the best substitute for eel sauce? The best substitute for eel sauce is teriyaki sauce. While they don’t taste exactly alike, they have common constituents and are used the same way.

An Overview of Eel Sauce

If eel sauce doesn’t contain any eel, it probably makes sense that a circular pizza comes in a rectangular box, and is eaten in a triangular slice. Oh, well…

While eel sauce doesn’t contain any eels, it is used primarily to eat unagi (Japanese fresh eel) before the other thousand and one meals it suits. However, history has it; eel sauce is more like a counterfeit American derivative of the Japanese sauce known as nitsume (which does contain eel).

We know today’s eel sauce is a brown liquid with thick consistency used for any and every meal. Chicken, pizza, bread, eggs, French fries, potatoes, rolls, rice, popcorn, eggplant; name it! If you’ve never tried eel sauce with a particular meal, there’s almost a 99.9% chance that someone elsewhere has… and it must have tasted good!

What about eel sauce anyway? What makes it so special? What makes it so versatile?

Amongst other outstanding features, eel sauce combines many tastes in one: sweet, salty, and umami. You’ll agree that not many condiments/sauces tick all these boxes. 

How, though?

Well, eel sauce consists primarily of three ingredients: mirin, soy sauce, and sugar. The soy sauce gives the salty and umami taste, while the other two give the sauce its sweetness. 

Given the ingredients are what anyone could get in any food store, eel sauce can be home-made. 

Eel sauce is also thick and sticky. Everybody at one time or another must have tasted eel sauce… you may not remember. Any memories of licking some sauce off your plate?

Eel sauce consists primarily of three ingredients.

Why Replace Eel Sauce?

  • Non-availability: You can find eel sauce in random grocery stores, but most likely in Asian stores. Sometimes, however, getting eel sauce might prove as tricky as discovering a needle in a haystack. They’re usually so good; these stores sell out in no time. What do you do then?
  • Experiment: A core trait to our lives as humans are our constant search for new adventures and mysteries. You may have seen somewhere on the internet that a particular meal blends better with some other sauce than eel sauce. And you decide to see for yourself.

Best Recommended Substitute for Eel Sauce: Teriyaki Sauce

Teriyaki sauce is another common Japanese ingredient that contains soy sauce and sugar. In place of mirin in eel sauce, teriyaki has honey, ginger, and garlic powder.

You can, therefore, almost guess right that they do not particularly share the same tastes. (nothing shares the same taste with eel sauce). Teriyaki is sweeter and has a more robust flavor than eel sauce. Nonetheless, they’re good substitutes because they can be used the same way.

Other Alternatives for Eel Sauce

Do It Yourself (DIY) Eel Sauce 

This would have truly won best recommended substitute. But wouldn’t it be strange that the best replacement for eel sauce be home-made eel sauce? 

Anyway, if all stores near you are out of eel sauce and you want the closest taste to it, don’t fret. 

Those same stores that don’t have eel sauce will have its constituent ingredients. Buy them, and make your eel sauce at home. 

Here’s how… 

  • Mix mirin, soy sauce, and sugar in equal amounts. 
  • Heat in a saucepan till about ¾ of the liquid is vaporized. 
  • Add some water or cornstarch before it cools to achieve the thick consistency eel sauces have fully.

And that’s all there is to it. If you want to be innovative, you can add ingredients like vinegar, honey, or anything you deem fit. You can also make as much as you want and store away in the fridge/freezer… there are no limitations. 

Hoisin

Hoisin is another sauce common to eel sauce by soy and sugar. Like teriyaki, it doesn’t contain mirin. Instead, it has vinegar, rice wine, sesame, pepper, garlic, and even hot sauce. It also doesn’t have the same taste as eel sauce. It has a more robust flavor (more ingredients).

If you want the true nitsume flavor, you can add ground roasted eel bones. 

Shoyu

Shoyu, more generally known as soy sauce, constitutes roughly one-third of eel sauce. It is a not-so-perfect substitute for eel sauce (just like the others previously examined). On its own, it is salty. Throwing some sugar and mirin into the mix will make a whole lot of difference in taste.

Nonetheless, when eel sauce is absent, shoyu can take its place.

Ponzu

This one’s easy to remember: replace the last letter with an ‘i’, which changes everything… everything.

Here’s a little twist with ponzu: it neither contains soy nor sugar like the others we’ve seen. It contains mirin instead. In addition to mirin are other ingredients like seaweed, katsuobushi, and rice vinegar.

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