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How to Cook Hitsumabushi

Hitsumabushi is a traditional Japanese dish that originated in the Nagoya region. It features grilled eel served over rice and can be enjoyed in three different ways, each offering a unique experience of flavors and textures. Whether you're a fan of savory, sweet, or a combination of both, Hitsumabushi has something for everyone. In this guide, I will provide you with detailed instructions on how to cook Hitsumabushi at home.

To make Hitsumabushi, you will need the following ingredients:

- Eel fillets: Look for high-quality eel fillets at your local seafood market or grocery store. The eel should be fresh, firm, and have a shiny and translucent skin. Plan on using around 2-3 eel fillets to serve four people.

- Japanese short-grain rice: Japanese short-grain rice works best for this dish due to its stickiness and slightly sweet flavor. Rinse the rice multiple times until the water runs clear, then cook it according to the package instructions or in a rice cooker.

- Unagi sauce: Unagi sauce is a luscious and sweet sauce made from soy sauce, mirin, sugar, and sake. You can find pre-made unagi sauce in most Asian markets or prepare it yourself by simmering the ingredients together until the sauce thickens and becomes syrupy.

- Dashi broth: Dashi is a traditional Japanese soup stock made from kombu (kelp) and katsuobushi (bonito flakes). You can make dashi from scratch by soaking kombu in water overnight, then simmering it with bonito flakes for about 10 minutes. Alternatively, you can use instant dashi powder or dashi stock packets available in stores.

- Toppings: Hitsumabushi is typically served with various toppings to enhance its flavors. Traditional toppings include thinly sliced green onions, grated daikon radish, wasabi, nori seaweed, and pickled vegetables.

Now, let's dive into the step-by-step process of cooking Hitsumabushi:

1. Preparing the eel:

   - Rinse the eel fillets under cold running water and pat them dry with paper towels.

   - Cut the eel into 2 to 3-inch sections, making sure to retain the skin.

   - Score the skin of each eel section in a criss-cross pattern, making shallow cuts about 1/4 inch deep. This helps the eel cook evenly and absorb more flavors.

2. Grilling the eel:

   - Preheat your grill or broiler to medium-high heat.

   - Lightly brush both sides of the eel sections with unagi sauce, reserving some for later use.

   - Place the eel pieces on the grill or under the broiler, skin-side down.

   - Grill for about 2-3 minutes on each side until the skin is crispy and golden brown, and the flesh is cooked through but still tender. Be cautious not to overcook the eel, as it may become tough.

3. Cooking the rice:

   - While the eel is grilling, cook the rice according to the package instructions or in a rice cooker.

   - Once the rice is cooked, keep it warm in the rice cooker or transfer it to a covered bowl to retain its moisture.

4. Preparing the dashi broth:

   - If you're using instant dashi powder, follow the package instructions to prepare the broth. If you made dashi from scratch, strain the liquid and discard the kombu and bonito flakes.

   - Heat the dashi broth in a pot over medium heat until it comes to a gentle simmer. Keep it warm throughout the meal preparation.

5. Assembling the Hitsumabushi:

   - Divide the cooked rice evenly into four individual bowls.

   - Place one grilled eel section on top of the rice in each bowl, skin-side up.

   - Drizzle some unagi sauce over the eel, ensuring it coats each piece. Add more sauce if desired for a richer flavor.

   - Sprinkle some thinly sliced green onions over the eel and rice.

6. Enjoying the Hitsumabushi:

   - There are three ways to savor Hitsumabushi, each providing a unique experience:

     a) Try the first portion as is: Enjoy a small portion of the dish as it is. Savor the combination of flavors and textures in one bite.

     b) Add toppings: Take the second portion and top it with grated daikon radish, wasabi, nori seaweed, or any other toppings of your choice. Mix them together with the eel, rice, and sauce, and enjoy the varied flavors.

     c) Create ochazuke: For the third portion, pour some dashi broth over the eel, rice, and toppings. This creates a comforting and flavorful rice soup. Adjust the amount of broth according to your preference.

Hitsumabushi offers a delightful culinary journey by allowing you to experience the dish in different ways. Explore and savor each method to fully appreciate the diverse flavors and textures it has to offer. Enjoy this Nagoya specialty and share the joy of Hitsumabushi with family and friends.