Catfish Unagi

Notes from the Chef: Unagi is the Japanese word for freshwater eel. In the U.S., it is most commonly encountered at sushi or hibachi style restaurants. Usually grilled and brushed with a sweet and sticky sauce that compliments the fatty eel, this preparation works wonderfully for catfish as well.


  • Whole Catfish (2-5 lb range)
  • Kosher Salt
  • Unagi Sauce
  • ½ cup soy sauce
  • ½ cup mirin
  • ½ cup sake
  • ½ cup sugar
Catfish Unagi


Play Icon Watch How to Cook Unagi-Style Catfish video

Cut Fish into 1” Steaks

To prepare the catfish, split the belly and remove the internal organs. Scrape along the rib cage and backbone with a spoon to remove any blood and viscera. Under cold running water, use kosher salt to scrub the fish thoroughly until all of the mucosa has been removed. Then, starting behind the gills and ending just before the tail starts, cut the fish horizontally into 1 inch steaks.

Cooking Unagi-Style Catfish step 1

Season Fish

Season fish liberally on all sides with salt and pepper.

Cooking Unagi-Style Catfish step 2

Add Mirin & Sake

To make the sauce, add sake and mirin to a pot and gently simmer on medium heat for several minutes until the alcohol has been cooked off.

Cooking Unagi-Style Catfish step 3

Add Soy Sauce & Sugar

Next add soy sauce and sugar, and continue to simmer, stirring occasionally to prevent the sugar from scorching. Once the mixture has reduced to the point of coating the back of a spoon, remove it from the heat and set aside.

Cooking Unagi-Style Catfish step 4

Prep Grill

Prepare a charcoal grill by setting the grates 4-6 inches above glowing coals. If using a propane grill set at a med-high heat. Be sure to brush the grates with oil to prevent sticking.

Cooking Unagi-Style Catfish step 5

Season & Grill Fish

Grill fish for approximately 4 minutes on one side. Flip and repeat. The fish should remain firm, but the skin will blister and crisp.

Cooking Unagi-Style Catfish step 6

Brush Fish with Sauce

Next, move the fish to a place of indirect heat on the grill, brush liberally with the sauce then close the lid on the grill and wait approximately 1 minute. Flip the fish, repeat same methods for the other side.

Cooking Unagi-Style Catfish step 7

Serve with Sides

Serve over a bed of rice with Japanese pickled vegetables. The meat can easily be flaked off the bone and enjoyed skin on.

Catfish Unagi

Chef Bio - Jonathan Wilkins
Jonathan is a writer, hunter, cook, educator and owner of Black Duck Revival. Jonathan examines the American sustenance and its themes of human migration, practical agrarianism, and craft. His writing, essays and recipes have been featured in Outdoor Life, Garden & Gun, Bear Hunting Magazine, Backcountry Journal, SITKA gear, Nature Swagger and Colorado Wild.