Catfish raised to taste like eel in Japan
OSAKA -- How do you make catfish smell and taste like eel? Ask one Japanese professor.
Grilled eel has long been traditional midsummer fare in Japan, but this year, some stores will carry a version made with catfish raised specially for the purpose.
Retail group Aeon will sell about 7,000 portions of catfish kabayaki starting Saturday, according to Kindai University's Masahiko Ariji, who developed the substitute for increasingly rare unagi freshwater eel.
By raising catfish in well water on feed he blended himself, Ariji managed to tone down their characteristic odor and give them the fattiness that eel lovers relish, he says.
He reached this breakthrough last year and plans to ship more than 10,000 of these catfish to supermarkets and department stores from April to August.
This year's doyo no ushi no hi, the day according to the old Japanese calendar that has become synonymous with eating eel, falls on July 30. Kabayaki, a popular way to enjoy eel, consists of a grilled filet, liberally basted with a sweetened soy sauce before going on the grill again.
The university runs restaurants in Osaka and Tokyo's upscale Ginza district that will serve a dinner of catfish kabayaki with rice for 2,000 yen ($18) that day.
Ariji is working on other recipes for his catfish, including raw sliced sashimi, and hopes to sell them year-round.