How to Make Unagi Sushi Rolls: Recipe

Unagi sushi rolls are a type of maki sushi that contains barbecue eel and cucumber, rolled in a layer of nori seaweed, and sushi rice.

Unagi is incredibly popular with sushi lovers and it also tends to be rather easy to make at home by yourself.

You might have heard the term Unagi be thrown about, but not too sure what it really means. Today we will be looking into this type of sushi and why it is so popular for many people. 

Sushi is one of the more expensive cuisines out there due to the fact that it takes time to prepare and create by professional chefs, rather than simply being heated and thrown on a plate like some other cuisines found in the USA. 

However, if you’re not interested in paying so much for sushi but still want to see what all the hype is about, then you’re in luck. Don’t get us wrong - sushi is not easy to make at home. Although, it’s also not impossible. 

With a few goes of trial and error, you’ll be able to enjoy your own homemade Unagi rolls thanks to the help of our article. So, let’s dive right in and learn all about the craft of Unagi. 

Unagi Rolls and Their Backstory

Unagi sushi rolls are a type of maki sushi, simply meaning that they are rolled in nori seaweed and seasoned sushi rice. Unagi is sushi that contains freshwater eel, otherwise known as its namesake: unagi. 

The unagi found within this type of sushi is known for its rich flavor that is naturally sweet, as well as its soft and buttery texture. Unagi can be found in many traditional Japanese dishes, although it is only found in sushi rolls in the USA. 

Unagi rolls can either have the nori on the outside or the inside of the rice layer, depending on your personal preference. Today we will be telling you how to make the maki sushi with the rice on the outside encapsulating the nori sheet. 

Unagi sushi can also be made from nigiri sushi, which is a thin slice of fish on top of an oval mound of sushi rice. However, we will be focusing on the Unagi sushi rolls today as they are commonly more popular than nigiri. 

Ingredients for Your Unagi Sushi Rolls

Here is a list of all the ingredients that you will need to find before attempting to make your own sushi. It is quite an extensive list, but if you’ve ever had Unagi rolls before then you will know how worth it the process is! 

  • Unagi: Of course, you’ll need the star of the show to make these rolls. Traditional Unagi contains grilled barbecued freshwater eel, flavored with either Unagi sauce or teriyaki sauce. You can find this in most local Japanese stores, either fresh or frozen, or you can purchase it online. 
  • Cucumber or Avocado: Depending on whether you want an added crunch or creaminess, you can choose a vegetable to use within your sushi rolls too. You could add both although the rolls might be too large to remain together. A few sprigs of green onion can be added to enhance the flavor.
  • Sushi Rice: Sushi rice is shorter in length than normal rice so make sure that you’re opting for the correct type of rice rather than whatever you have in your cupboards. 
  • Sushi Vinegar: This is added to the rice to season it and give your sushi that signature slightly bitter flavor. If you’re making your own sushi vinegar you will need to mix rice vinegar, sugar, and salt together. 
  • Nori Seaweed: Nori seaweed comes in sheets and can be found either in your local Japanese grocery store or online. Nori is black with a slight green tinge to it. 
  • Unagi Sauce: Optional, but very highly recommended for finishing your Unagi rolls off. You can either find this online or in a Japanese store. 
  • Sesame Seeds: Again, these are optional but make a great garnish for your Unagi rolls. You can use black or white seeds or a mix of both. Toasting them in a pan for five minutes gives them a supreme nutty flavor and scent.

Making Your Unagi Sushi Rolls 

Now we’ll walk you through the step-by-step process of what you need to do to make your very own Unagi sushi rolls at home.

It might take you a few tries to get the hang of it, but once you do you’ll be making them for every occasion imaginable! Who even needs an occasion, anyway? 

Step One: Preparing the Rice

The sushi rice is the backbone of any type of sushi and can make or break your Unagi rolls. This process begins before you even start cooking the rice. 

You need to choose high-quality rice that will remain fluffy once it’s been rolled. Lower quality rice has a tendency to go flat and mushy once you’ve started rolling your sushi. 

To avoid this, we suggest opting for the best quality sushi rice that you can find. This might be at a Japanese grocery store or online.  

Less is more when it comes to cooking sushi rice, as we’ve had the best results when cooking it with a 1:1 ratio of rice to water. 

Cook your rice with this ratio until it is soft and opaque. Move from your cooking pan or rice cooker into a large bowl and allow it to cool for a few minutes. Once it is warm but not hot, mix in your sushi vinegar to season the grain. 

Set your rice aside for later when we prepare the sushi. 

Step Two: Getting the Unagi Ready

We are assuming that you are using packaged Unagi like we do, as this is the easiest way to get the authentic Unagi that is found in Japanese culture.

You can replicate this on your own with another recipe online, but we find it much easier to use a pre-made Unagi from the local Japanese store. 

With this in mind, cook your Unagi as it says on the back of the package. We bake ours in the oven. It shouldn’t take longer than 15 minutes, although if you have frozen Unagi the cooking times might vary. 

Once you have cooked your freshwater eel, leave it to cool for a few minutes before cutting it into strips, ready to be rolled into your sushi. We’ve had success with strips no larger than ½ an inch in thickness. 

Step Three: Preparing Your Rolling Space

To roll maki sushi you will need a bamboo rolling mat and some plastic wrap. The plastic wrap prevents the fillings from touching the rolling mat and making for a much longer and cumbersome cleanup. 

Lay your rolling mat out on a flat surface with a sheet of plastic wrap over the top of it. The latter should be slightly larger than the rolling mat to ensure that it remains clean and the rice doesn’t stick to the bamboo. 

Cut your nori sheet in half before laying it on top of the plastic wrap. You’ll only need half of one sheet for each roll, otherwise, the nori layer will be too thick. 

Step Four: Making Your Unagi Rolls

Spoon around ½ to ¾ cup of rice on top of the nori sheet and spread it evenly.

Too much rice will cause your roll to be too thick and difficult to roll. Sprinkle over some sesame seeds before flipping the nori sheet over so that the rice is now face down. 

Add your thin slices of Unagi down the center of the nori sheet. We only use a single strip so as not to make the roll too large.

Don’t forget to add a strip of your chosen vegetable! We used cucumber and made sure that the strip was no thicker than the Unagi. 

You can add any other fillings you want to here, such as green onions, avocado, or spices. Just make sure that you’re not adding too much to prevent the sushi rolls from coming undone after rolling. 

Slide your thumbs underneath the bamboo mat and lift the edges over the Unagi fillings. Roll the mat away from you while pressing firmly down on the sushi underneath. Keep rolling until the edges of the bamboo mat meet.

Step Five: Finishing Touches

Remove the bamboo mat and plastic wrap and you should be left with a long sushi roll with the rice and sesame seeds on the outside. Lay this on a flat surface and cut it into eight pieces, ensuring that the width of each is the same. 

Drizzle over some Unagi sauce to give the rolls an even more amazing flavor. Serve up the rolls and watch your friends and family’s amazement as they see what’s on the menu tonight! 

Tips and Tricks

As we’ve mentioned, sushi is often more difficult to make than it sounds. So, while our five-step plan doesn’t sound too taxing, you might find yourself struggling the first time you put it into action.

Don’t worry, though. The more you practice, the easier it becomes. Here are a few things to remember to make learning less challenging. 

  1. Use Tezu water: Tezu water will prevent the rice from sticking to your hands when handling it. Dip your hands in the water before touching the rice for a much calmer experience. Tezu water is ¼ cup water and 2 teaspoons of rice vinegar. 
  2. Squeeze the rolls: When rolling the sushi, squeeze the rolls gently to prevent them from falling apart. If they still look fragile after rolling, place the bamboo mat over the top of the sushi and squeeze them again.