Unagi is braised freshwater eel, a fatty fish with a satisfyingly firm texture, making it a perfect filling for dumplings. A clear fish broth made from simmering salmon bones in ichiban dashi complements these tasty morsels.
Dumplings are something special. And for me, no-one has described why that is the case better than Anthony Bourdain…
the chewy, the deeply savory, fragrant, perfect shaped and folder ballistically designed delivery vehicles for pure pleasure.Anthony Bourdain, Parts Unknown S04E01
Bourdain was describing a pork filled dumpling he was eating in Shanghai, but the description is just as applicable to these delicious unagi fish dumplings.
Unagi fish dumplings
If you are a frequent visitor to sushi restaurants, you would have seen unagi sushi on menus. Also, fans of donburi, Japanese rice bowls, would have seen unagi as a topping. Unagi is the deboned fillets from freshwater eels. Typically these fillets are then brushed with a sweet basting sauce made from soy sauce, mirin, sugar, and sake. Finally, they get braised over charcoal.
Eel, especially freshwater eel, has a firm yet fatty texture. That texture, together with its sweet and rich flavour, enhanced with the umami-packed basting sauce, not only makes a great topping on sushi rice but is a great fish dumpling filling.
While you could make unagi yourself, freshwater eels can be hard to come by. And then there is the deboning, basting, and grilling over charcoal. Ready-made frozen unagi, such as the one pictured, is delicious in my experience. You will be able to buy it from the Japanese section of your supermarket if it has one. Alternatively, an Asian grocery store will stock it. You may even be able to find it online near you.
Salmon bone broth
This salmon fish bone broth is quite different from this salmon head stock, the base for many recipes on delectabilia. The broth starts with an ichiban dashi, the highest quality dashi, as the ingredients are fresh out of the packaging. Retain the kombu and katsuobushi to make niban dashi or second dashi, and freeze for future use.
You should be able to buy salmon bones from the fish counter at your supermarket. They may not be on display, so you will need to ask for them. Half a salmon head would work too.
Rinse the bones, then simmer gently in the dashi together with a diced onion. Make sure it is a low simmer to avoid the broth getting cloudy. Season with fish sauce and add salt if you think it needs it.
A little katsuobushi works great as a garnish for this dish. If the broth and dumplings are hot enough, the extremely thin slices of katsuobushi will move as the hot air currents pass by. A few finely diced chives add some colour.
Unagi Dumplings in Salmon Bone Broth
Salmon bone broth
- Prepare the dashi. Use instructions here.
- Since the salmon bones.
- Add the dashi and salmon bones to a suitably sized saucepan and place over a medium heat.
- Once bubbles start appearing, cover and reduce the heat to low. Maintain this low simmer for 40 minutes.
- Remove the salmon bones and strain the broth through a fine strainer or muslin.
- Add the fish sauce, stir, and taste. Add salt if you think it is necessary.
- Dice the eel into small pieces (5x5mm or thereabouts)
- Mix in the diced chives.
- Place about 1/2 Tbsp of diced eel in the middle of a gyoza wrapper and wrap according to your preference. I used a “rose bud” wrap, as described here…
- Place the dumplings in a steamer and steam for 10 minutes. Be sure to use slices of carrot or pieces of baking paper between the dumplings and the steamer to avoid sticking.
- Place some dumplings in a bowl, pour in some salmon bone broth, and top with some katsuobushi and chives.