How to Make Eel Sauce: A Recipe for the Classic Japanese Condiment

Eel sauce is a beloved condiment in America, but most American varieties don’t contain eel. With its sweet and salty flavor, the thick, sticky sauce provides umami to many foods served in Japanese restaurants, including grilled eel and various sushi rolls, making it a perfect sauce for vegans.

However, the original eel sauce, or “nitsume” in Japan, does contain eel broth. But you can also make the Americanized version of eel sauce at home using four ingredients.

If you have ever wondered how to make eel sauce, here’s a recipe for the classic Japanese condiment and several delicious ways to use it at home.

Eel Sauce Info and Uses

Eel sauce reduces four ingredients – soy sauce, mirin, sake, and salt. As the ingredients cook and combine, they impart their flavors and thicken. The sugar and salt content act as preservatives, meaning the sauce will keep very well, even if you make a larger batch. It also freezes well.

Uses for Homemade Eel Sauce

You can serve your homemade eel sauce with an unagi don (eel bowl) like the Japanese if you want to, or serve it with a variety of sushi rolls. You can buy frozen eel at Asian specialty stores, which you’ll need to grill before serving.

 However, the depth of flavor in the condiment lends itself to several other foods. Here are some creative ideas on how to use eel sauce at home:

1.     Grilled Vegetables

Grilled vegetables make a great accompaniment to any meal or can stand as a meal on their own. Whether you’re grilling your vegetables on skewers on the barbecue or in the oven, brush them a few times during grilling to make them even tastier.

2.     Pizza Drizzle

Add some oomph to your homemade pizza by drizzling some eel sauce over it as it comes out of the oven.

3.     Replace Teriyaki Sauce

Eel sauce and teriyaki sauce have similar flavors, meaning eel sauce is an excellent replacement for teriyaki sauce. Whether you follow a plant-based diet or not, you can use eel sauce to flavor several foods calling for teriyaki sauce, including grilled chicken, marinade for tofu, dipping sauce, or added to stir-fries.

4.     Replace Hoisin Sauce

Cantonese cuisine uses a lot of hoisin sauce for glazing, stir-fries, and dips. Even though hoisin sauce includes chilis, garlic, and vinegar, it’s very similar to eel sauce in flavor. Therefore, you can replace the homemade eel sauce in recipes requiring hoisin sauce.  

5.     Use Instead of Barbecue Sauce

Summertime is barbecue season, and BBQ sauce’s delicious tastes and smells. Eel sauce is a perfect substitute for barbecues, primarily if you are catering to vegans, since it contains no honey. It’s also yummy on meats, including pulled pork and burger patties.

6.     Use it as a Burger Topping

Burger meals are a favorite in most homes. Once you start assembling your buns with everyone’s favorite vegetable, pickled accompaniments, and burger patties, add a small dollop of eel sauce for its sumptuous taste.

7.     Use as a Marinade

Marinades add their depth of flavor to meats, vegetables, and tofu before cooking. Why not add some eel sauce to your marinades? Eel sauce has a higher sugar content than some marinades, so remember that it burns quicker – keep your eyes on the food when cooking and often turn it to avoid burning.

8.     Serve as a Dipping Sauce

Serve in little dipping bowls with vegetables, pita bread, lettuce wraps, dumplings, fries, potatoes, etc.

Eel sauce is great for drizzling over cooked foods, as a dipping sauce, and to add flavor during cooking. Once you have a batch ready for use, there’s no limit to how to use it in your cuisine.

How to Make Eel Sauce

It might sound fancy and complicated, but this finger-licking eel sauce is quick and easy to make at home. It’s also vegan and gluten-free.

Special Tips to Remember When Making Eel Sauce

  • Cook over low heat to avoid caramelizing the sugar
  • Don’t over-reduce because the sauce thickens as it cools.
  • If your sauce looks a bit watery, boil it longer to reduce it.
  • You have over-reduced the eel sauce, and it’s too thick. No worries. Heat it with a bit of water to reach the right consistency.


  • 1/4 cup mirin (a sweeter sake with less alcohol content)
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons sake (use Japanese rice wine if you don’t have sake)
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar


  1. Place all four ingredients for the eel sauce in a small saucepan.
  2. Gently stir the ingredients to combine while bringing them to a boil over medium heat.
  3. Stir intermittently as the ingredients boil slowly.
  4. Allow to simmer until the mixture reduces by about one-third.
  5. Remember, the eel sauce thickens as it cools. You can test for consistency by placing some sauce on a plate. Then draw a line through it using your finger. The sauce is reduced enough if the line holds. Once cooled to room temperature, the consistency of eel sauce resembles that of honey.
  6. When you’re happy with the consistency, remove the eel sauce from the stove and cool it.
  7. Store in sealed containers in the refrigerator for up to two weeks or freeze for up to three months.

Variations for Eel Sauce

You can double the sugar in the recipe if you prefer a sweeter eel sauce. On the other hand, if you want to spice up the sauce, get creative by adding some heat by including a hint of cayenne pepper, chili sauce, or sriracha as you boil it.

Tips for Serving Eel Sauce

Eel sauce can be served either warm or cold. It pairs perfectly with several dishes, including grilled and roasted vegetables, sushi, dumplings, burgers, and more. Serve it as a dipping sauce on the side to complete your dish.

Now that you know how to make eel sauce and its delicious uses at home, get creative in the kitchen! Enjoy experimenting with this tasty condiment and let us know your new recipes! 

Final Take

Eel sauce is a flavorsome condiment known for its complex taste that resembles a mix of hoisin sauce and BBQ sauce. Traditionally, eel sauce contains eel or fish broth, but many vegan varieties are available. Now that you know how to make eel sauce in no time with four ingredients, you can prepare a batch of this Japanese classic at home to use in any dish. Eel sauce is the perfect way to add umami and sweetness to your foods, whether you intend to serve it as a dip or to use it while cooking.


Is eel sauce vegan?

Yes, many vegan varieties of eel sauce are available in the market. You can also prepare a vegan version at home by using mirin and soy sauce as the primary ingredients.

How long does eel sauce last in the refrigerator?

When stored properly in an airtight container, eel sauce can last up to two weeks in the refrigerator. You can also freeze it for longer periods.

How do I thicken eel sauce?

If your eel sauce looks a bit watery, boil it longer to reduce it and thicken it up. However, be careful not to over-reduce because the sauce thickens as it cools. If you end up with too thick sauce, add some water to reach the desired consistency.

Can I use eel sauce as a marinade?

Yes, you can use eel sauce as a marinade. Just remember that due to its higher sugar content, it tends to burn quicker, so keep an eye on your food when cooking and turn it off often.

What can I substitute for eel sauce?

Eel sauce and teriyaki sauce have similar flavors making eel sauce an excellent replacement for teriyaki sauce. You can also substitute hoisin or barbecue sauces with eel sauce, depending on the recipe.

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