What Does American Eel Taste Like?

Written by Dane in Fishing
Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons

When I saw eel listed on the menu at my favorite restaurant recently, I couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to eat such a creature. 

Although I can’t say that I’ve ever tasted American eel before, when I heard about the rich, succulent taste it apparently has, I decided to do some more research to find out for myself.

So what does American eel taste like? The taste of an American eel is best described as rich, bold, and delicious. Regarded as a delicacy, especially in Asian cuisine, these creatures can be grilled, fried, and smoked, as well as cooked into sushi, soups, and various other dishes.

With the typical image of an eel in mind, it’s kind of hard to imagine why anyone would ever want to eat one. 

But when you understand why an eel tastes the way it does and the different types of eel out there, your curiosity might just be peaked. 

This article will tell you everything you need to know about eating eel and what it tastes like.

What Does American Eel Taste Like?

American Eel Taste:

  • Light
  • Slightly sweet

Taste Comparison:

  • Chicken
  • Salmon
  • Catfish

American Eel Texture:

  • Soft
  • Slightly firm
  • Chewy

Texture Comparison:

  • Squid (calamari)
  • Snakes
  • Frogs

The exact taste of an American eel is somewhat difficult to describe to someone who has never tried it before. 

The best words to associate with this dish is light and sweet, and it can be most closely compared to squid meat.

Anyone who has had grilled squid or fried calamari in a restaurant can get a decent idea of the texture of an eel.

Its texture is soft yet slightly firm. It can also be described as chewy, but it doesn’t have a fishy aftertaste. It is very absorbent of sauces and seasoning, which makes it great for cooking.

Some people have compared eel to tasting something like chicken. In more extreme cases, it has also been described to taste like snakes or frogs.

Probably the closest dish when it comes to the actual taste would be either salmon or catfish. While everyone’s taste buds are different, the exact taste of an American eel could be closest to one of these things or a mixture of all of them for each individual.

Whatever the opinions on the upfront taste of eel are, most agree that eel is very pleasant when seasoned and cooked into savory sauces.

The Two Types of Eel And Why They Taste Different

Types of Eel:

  • Unagi
  • Anago

Unagi:

  • Freshwater eel
  • American eels fall into this category
  • Tastes more savory with a sweet note

Anago:

  • Saltwater eel
  • Tastes sweet and soft

There are two main types of eel that are safe for humans to eat. 

These types of eel are Unagi and Anago. 

Unagi is classified as a type of freshwater eel that includes American eel, and Anago is a saltwater eel. 

These types of eel taste extremely different due to the type of water they are found in and their opposite fundamental properties.

The water that each eel spends most of their lifetime in will play a huge role in the taste that they give off once they are caught and prepared.

Your opinion of the taste of eel might be even further complicated by the different types of eel there are. 

In the past, you might have tried only one type of eel that gave you a bad impression of the dish as a whole, without knowing that there was another option.

This is not to say that one type of eel is better than the other, however. 

While unagi is the more popular option, this is mainly due to the fact that it is more widely known and available. As a result, if you go to a commercial sushi restaurant, you will most likely be served unagi, which includes American eels.

As mentioned before, the availability of freshwater eel across the world does not necessarily mean that it is preferred over saltwater eel. 

If sweet and soft is more to your liking, then you might give Anago a try if you’re able to find any.

What is Eel Sauce?

There is so much that goes into the rich, robust taste of eel. 

There is the eel on its own, which includes the different types of eel that are available along with the different ways that each eel can be cooked and served.

To those who have never tried the dish before, it may seem like there is so much that you can add to an eel dish, along with the varying opinions on it, that it can be hard to pinpoint exactly what eel tastes like.

An additional delicacy that branches off of the American eel, and all other types of eel for that matter, is something called eel sauce. 

This is commonly used in combination with unagi and anago, which includes the American eel.

The thick, sweet, hickory flavored sauce is often used with sushi as well. It goes by a number of names, including eel sauce, kabayaki sauce, and unagi sauce. Although it can coat a variety of fish and proteins, the sauce undeniably goes the best with eel itself.

On the tip of the tongue, eel sauce may seem like it holds very complex flavors, but the mixture of ingredients that goes into it is actually very minimal.

Ingredients Used To Make Eel Sauce:

  • 2/3 cup of Sugar
  • 4 tsp of Dashi (fish soup stock)
  • 1 cup of Shoyu (soy sauce)
  • 1 cup of Mirin
  • 1/2 cup of Sake
  • 2 Tbsp of Water

Eel sauce is created by simmering all of the above ingredients together in the same pot. The rich and robust flavors that come with the sweet syrup can be created in just 20 minutes.

Whether you are making it yourself or ordering it with your sushi at your favorite restaurant, eel sauce is made by mixing together the mirin, sugar, dashi, and sake. This mixture is brought to a boil in the saucepan and the soy sauce is added.

This concoction will simmer for 15 to 20 minutes by itself, while the cornstarch and water is mixed together on the side. 

This method will help to properly thicken the sauce without allowing the cornstarch to form clumps within the liquid mixture. 

Once everything is mixed together in the pot, the delicious eel sauce awaits.

In conclusion, American eel, classified under the category of Unagi, can be cooked, served, and enjoyed in many different ways. From grilled and smoked eel to dishes smothered in eel sauce, the only way to truly know what American eel tastes like is to try it yourself.

What is the best way to cook eel?

One of the most popular ways to cook an eel is to smoke it, because it maintains the natural flavor of the eel the best out of all other methods. When it comes to sushi, the eel is most often grilled instead of smoked. To find out your favorite method of cooking eel, it would be a good idea to try both and compare the two.

Should I try eating American eel?

After reading the contents of this article, you should be able to get a good idea of how you can compare eel to other dishes that you have tried before. If you think that you might enjoy it, it never hurts to try something new. You might find your new favorite food, but you will never know until you taste it for yourself.

About Dane

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