What is Anago?
It is grilled, then coated with nitsume, which is sweet. What has a very special flavor, even among nigiri-sushi and is very popular as a topping? Japanese conger eel (anago). This is why there are some sushi restaurants who make a point of purchasing eel with the same thickness and size all year long and maintaining the same flavor.
The conger eel used for sushi toppings is the Conger myriaster species of the Anguilliformes order, Congridae family. There is an old saying that “The best Conger eel is from Edomae (the old name for Tokyo Bay)” and even now, the conger eel found in Haneda Sea (in front of Tokyo International Airport), is considered to be high quality, but they are not available in high quantities and aren’t often put on the market. However, besides the Haneda seas, the conger eel found in Tokyo Bay, such as in Kanazawa-hakkei, Kanagawa prefecture, or Kisarazu and Futtsu, Chiba prefecture, also have good flavor. Conger eel itself is found throughout Japan, from Hokkaido southward. They are often caught in Tsushima, Nagasaki prefecture and the Seto Inland Sea. In recent years they are also imported from South Korea and China.
This is one topping that can be enjoyed year-round, but is especially delicious from June to July when the conger eel is fattier. This is said to be because the rainy season allows nutrients to flow through the rivers into the sea, increasing the food supply and making the eel more delicious. It is interesting that although grilled conger eel is made into sushi at Kansai sushi restaurants, boiled conger eel is the general topping in Kanto.
When Yohei Hanaya, the founder of Edo-style sushi, first opened shop, it is said that he added boiled conger eel as a topping when he added clams and tiger prawns as toppings. Since conger eel has been used as a sushi topping since Edo-style sushi was born, special attention to detail is given in the preparations, and each shop comes up with its own unique flavor.
What does Anago sushi taste like?
One of the popular ingredients of Edomae sushi. Anago（Japanese conger） becomes fattier from the rainy season through the summer. Just boiled anago has a soft texture and melts in mouth. High quality fat leaves a fine aftertaste. Best eaten with salt or tsume（boiled sweet with soy sauce）.
The naval (actually the anus) in the middle of the body serves as the border separating the head part (top) and tail part (bottom) of the eel. The fat is distributed better on the top. People used to say that since the bottom moves more it is more tasty. Also often said, “the top should be served skin-up and the bottom should be served skin-down.” Skin-up means that the skin side is on top and the meaty side is on the rice. Skin-down means that the meaty side is facing up and the skin side is on the rice. Conger eel easily melts apart when it is boiled and broth enters the part where it separates, so the appearance is not as appealing. But unless the crack is extremely obvious, both the top and bottom of the conger eel is often prepared skin-down in sushi.
Also called White spotted conger or Conger eel. (Revision date: September 29, 2020)