This unique take on traditional nigiri features slices of pan-seared eggplant, glazed with a glossy and flavorful sauce that balances sweetness and savoriness perfectly. The sauce is infused with a delicate touch of truffle oil adding depth to the dish. The eggplant’s texture is tender and moist, with a subtle smoky flavor that complements the sauce perfectly. The dish is presented as bite-sized pieces of nigiri, making it perfect for sharing or as a decadent appetizer.
Why This Works
Using eggplant as a substitute for traditional unagi is not only cost-effective but also ethical. Slicing the eggplant into small pieces allows for quicker cooking times in a pan, eliminating the need for a grill or oven. With this recipe, you can enjoy a high-quality, restaurant-style dish at home in just a few minutes.
What is unagi?
In 2019, while on vacation in Tokyo, I had one of my first encounters with authentic unagi. During my search for traditional Japanese cuisine, I stumbled upon a renowned Michelin restaurant called Unagi Hashimoto located at the north end of the Ishikiri Bridge over the Kanda River. The dish featured unagi served over a bed of rice, presented in a beautifully lacquered and hand-painted wooden bento box. The experience was particularly memorable as the recipe for the meal had been passed down through six generations, making it feel like a special culinary journey through time.
Unagi is a type of freshwater eel that is commonly used in Japanese cuisine. It is considered a delicacy and is usually served grilled or barbecued with a glossy, sweet, and savory sauce. Unagi is known for its soft, tender texture and rich flavor, which is often compared to that of fatty tuna. Unlike many other types of fish, unagi is not typically eaten raw. Instead, it is usually cooked before serving, either by grilling or boiling. The traditional Japanese method for preparing unagi involves steaming it first, then grilling it over charcoal to give it a smoky flavor.
In Japanese culture, unagi has long been associated with good health and vitality. It is said to be a rich source of essential vitamins and minerals, including vitamin A, calcium, and phosphorus, and is believed to have a variety of health benefits, such as improving digestion and boosting the immune system. Overall, unagi is a unique and flavorful ingredient that has played an important role in Japanese cuisine and culture for centuries.
What is eggplant unagi?
If you have dietary or religious restrictions that prevent you from enjoying traditional unagi, eggplant unagi can be a delicious alternative. This creative variation of classic nigiri showcases pan-seared slices of eggplant, coated in a glossy and delectable sauce that strikes a balance between sweet and savory flavors. The sauce is enriched with a delicate hint of truffle oil, which adds an extra layer of depth to the dish. The eggplant itself is soft and juicy, with a subtle smokiness that perfectly complements the sauce. The dish is presented in bite-sized pieces of nigiri, making it an ideal choice for sharing or indulging as an appetizer.
What kind of eggplant do I need?
When compared to other varieties of eggplant, Japanese eggplants have a gentler flavor and a less fibrous texture. To achieve the best results when cooking with Japanese eggplants, opt for ones that are straight and slender.
How do I prep eggplant?
Because eggplants contain a high amount of water, their texture can be affected during the cooking process. To reduce excess moisture, sprinkle the sliced eggplant with salt and allow it to rest for about 10 minutes before cooking. Afterward, dab away any residual water before proceeding with the recipe. One thing to avoid when cooking Japanese eggplants is air frying, as this method can cause the eggplant to develop a bitter taste.
What is sushi rice?
Sushi rice is a crucial component in sushi and is characterized by its balance of saltiness, acidity, and sweetness. In a traditional omakase, the chef prepares two types of rice, one with darker seasoning for heavier fish and one with lighter seasoning for lighter fish. Rice is a symbol of Asian culture and is even used in prayer for better harvests. Different varieties of rice, such as long-grain, medium-grain, and short-grain, have different levels of stickiness, sweetness, and translucency. The preferred rice for sushi is medium-grain. A recipe for making one batch of sushi rice is included below.
How do I make sushi rice?
- Rinse the rice: Rinse the rice several times in cold water until the water runs clear. This removes excess starch and ensures that the rice will be sticky and fluffy.
- Soak the rice: Soak the rice in cold water for 30 minutes to 1 hour before cooking. This helps the rice absorb water evenly and cook more evenly.
- Cook the rice: In a medium-sized saucepan, combine the soaked rice and water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Once the water boils, reduce the heat to low and cover the pot with a lid. Simmer for 15-20 minutes or until the water is completely absorbed.
- Prepare the seasoning: In a small saucepan, combine the rice vinegar, sugar, and salt. Heat the mixture over medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Do not boil.
- Season the rice: Once the rice is cooked, transfer it to a large bowl. Pour the seasoning mixture over the rice and gently fold it in using a wooden spoon or paddle. Be careful not to overmix the rice, as this can make it mushy.
- Let it cool: Spread the seasoned rice out in a thin layer on a baking sheet or large platter. Allow it to cool to room temperature before using it to make sushi.
Eggplant Unagi Sushi
- 1 cup premium medium grain white rice
- 1 tbsp rice vinegar
- 1 tbsp white sugar
- 1/4 tsp fine sea salt
- 1 Japanese eggplant skin on, bias cut
- 3 tbsp neutral oil
- 3 tbsp mirin
- 1/2 tsp dashi powder
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- 2 tbsp black truffle oil
- Rice | Add one cup of rice into the pot of a rice cooker. Rinse the rice until it runs clear of starch. Drain and add enough filtered water to the pot according to the instructions on the package then steam. Once cooked set aside until warm. Add rice vinegar, sea salt, and sugar, and mix well.
- Eggplant | Slice the eggplant into 1/4” thick pieces on a bias cut. Sprinkle salt on both sides of the eggplant and rest for 10 mins. Pat the eggplant dry with a paper towel. Heat a pan on medium-high heat, add oil. Once the oil is hot and glistening, add the eggplant to the pan and pan-fry until golden. Transfer on a paper towel to absorb the excess grease. Reduce the heat to low.
- Sauce | In the same pan add the mirin, dashi, sugar, and soy sauce. Mix until the sauce thickens and has a glaze-like consistency.
- Rice | Moisten your hands with water and add one tablespoon of cooked rice into the center of your palm. Shape it into an oval or rectangular shape, pressing firmly until densely packed about 2 to 2.5” long and 1” wide. Repeat.
- Assemble | Top each rice ball with a single piece of eggplant. Brush with glaze and 3-4 drops of truffle oil. Serve hot.