Sunday, August 2, 2009

Home Unajyu - The Silly Hard Way And Not Recommended

Sometimes my wannabeness gets the better of me. First it was cooking a dashimaki tamago in a traditional copper pan. While it was fun and I definitely do recommend making your own dashimaki, I also highly recommend purchasing instead a cheap and manageable sized teflon pan from your local Asian grocer. It just makes dashimaki life so much easier..

This day it was grilling unagi. I really wanted to experience the joy of flipping the glazed kabayaki back and forth like I see so often on Japanese travel shows and YouTube. I've had an amazing Hitsumabushi in Nagoya once but the kitchen unfortunately was out of view.
Anyway my tried and true method of maximizing its flavor by quickly broiling it in the toaster oven over a foil would take a backseat this day. No, that was too easy I guess..

As a side note, prices of kabayaki can range from as low as under $5 to up to $20 for ones that are imported from Japan. I felt I can trust the Shirakiku brand for a decent product and decided to go with it at $7.99 (Nijiya). I've picked up quite poor unagi in the past (not necessarily at Nijiya) that was either fishy, had an overly thick gummy skin, no texture in the meat, or all the above. While it can be difficult to really know what you're getting, I personally look for something with finer ridges on the filleted side and overall consistency in shape.

So I thought I did a pretty good job skewering the two halves together though I really should've done it in a fan shape so the end could be easier held by a hand (with mitts). But this would still eventually prove to be an insignificant detail to my grilling attempt failure..

My excitement was high. I even had an Uchiwa fan that I picked up at Kappabashi a while back that would serve no purpose since I didn't need to "feed air" to the Iwatani portable propane burner, ha. At most maybe it would help some of the smoke exit out the window but either way I would be patting it with a smile. :)

Or so I thought.. I knew a minute into it that the precooked tender meat wasn't going to withstand the skewering by its own weight. It got more and more tender under the heat and I knew I needed to switch to Plan-B (which I didn't even know I had).

A 30-second nuke in the microwave and out came the blow torch. I was going to use actual flames to grill this one way or another! Lightly, but the look, sound, and smell of the sizzle was fantastic. And well.. I got that char I so wanted. :)

For some reason when grilled unagi is served in a rectangular container it's called an Unajyu (as opposed to Una-don when in a bowl).

It may look a bit dry but it was partly due to sitting a bit after deciding on boiling some water for a miso soup last minute (just instant and not pictured).
The other half of the eel I buried under the rice like a lasagna. Apparently this is called a "Double" Unajyu.

Mmm, grill char.. This was great but I now know there were easier ways to achieve this..
I eventually did use some unagi sauce that I purchased also at Nijiya. In retrospect I would've brushed a coat or two before the torching session since it would've added a lot more of the candied caramelized flavor that I was after.

I also sprinkled some ground Sansho that I purchased at the same time. The particular bottle was really colorful and cute and I loved the little detail in the cap..

Sansho is a traditional condiment for unagi and adds a nice lemony and woodsy aromatic to the meal but I'm careful as to not use too much since it could make it a bit bitter. I found out it's actually Japanese Szechuan Pepper but I find it lacking any of the distinctive numbing effect of the famous Szechuan peppercorns. But that may be because it is used in smaller portions?

So all this was fun but next time I'll definitely be using my toaster oven.

I was exhausted afterward and the whole point of having unagi this day was for some pick me up!


Anonymous said...

I love that little chopstick holder, just too cute! I was chuckling the whole time I was reading the post. Your determination for authenticity is awesome. I can get like that too sometimes. And like you, once is enough and easier is better in some (most) cases, lol!

The blow torch reminds me of the time I made my first creme brulee. I didn't have one of those fancy small kitchen torches so the Mister hooked me up to his massive blow torch. Let's just say I didn't get as good as a result as you did with the unagi, heehee!

Anonymous said...

In the end it looks like you ended up with a delicious double unajyu, despite the obstacles you faced. And you've managed to give useful tips on the preparation of unagi and teach Japanese at the same time.

Anjali said...

YUM, I could go for some unagi right now. The first time I went to a Japanese grocery store, it was August and they were grilling unagi in the parking lot and I thought it was the greatest thing ever. Natsukashii!

Dennis K. said...

Hi CAB! It's actually an arm from one of my robot figures (HYGOG to be exact). Funny thing is, I also picked it up at Nijiya though a while back. Versatile that market is! :) I'm not sure what you used but my Bernzomatic from Lowes had a good adjustable valve. I love it! And yes, as for unagi next time I'm using the toaster oven.. With maybe a touch of torching in the end.. ;)

Hi BB! It would've probably been better if I didn't have to make a photo session out of it.. Oh and deciding to make miso soup last minute too.. :)

Hi Anjali! The smell is addicting isn't it? I'm still bummed I couldn't flip the skewers.. haha.

Sawyer said...

that's pretty neat what you you went all out. you take some good pictures too...makes me want a bowl myself

Dennis K. said...

Thanks Sawyer, I like having unagi especially in the summer!

caninecologne said...

cool equipment you have! i wouldn't even know how to use those things but you make it look so easy. love your detailed posts by the are very thorough and there is always a lot of info packed learning new things about food!

Dennis K. said...

Thanks CC! The little information that I do have I try to share.. even if it's a collection of useless details, haha. ;)

The ceramic coated grill mesh evens out the flame when placed over a stove and supposedly also produces some infrared heat. You can find them at Daiso for cheap but I splurged a bit on mine and was about $12 at Mitsuwa. I'm saying cause I know you didn't mean by my microwave! hehe.

Ross4Teflon said...

Dennis - Thanks for recommending using a Teflon pan while making your dashimaki tamago. I represent DuPont and it's always a pleasure to see people recommending our products in their recipes.

If you are interested in some other recipes or great cookbooks to look at, drop me an email and I would be glad to help you out! Thanks. Cheers, Ross (Lots of great pics on your post! Looks delicious.)

Dennis K. said...

Hi Ross, I usually moderate out business related comments but I found yours personable and sincere. :) Teflon pans rock!