Whenever I go out for Japanese food, I become completely impulsive and out of control. I'll get everything à la carte and order piece after piece of eel, tuna, octopus, etc. Miso soup to start, then the soft shell crab special? Sure, why not! The bill, as you can imagine, is through the roof. So I feel especially thrifty when I buy some of the Japanese foods I love at an Asian market and prepare them at home. I finally have an Asian grocery store in my Connecticut town, where they sell frozen, packaged Japanese eel that's already been split, cooked and sauced. I’m sure it is what most restaurants use as well. When it's on sale, I pay about $5 for a package, which is good for dinner for one, plus leftovers for lunch the next day. I usually buy two packages and keep them in my freezer so that whenever I want, I can have eel and rice in minutes.
While the eel thaws—it takes about 15 minutes—I turn the oven to 400°and mix together soy sauce, sesame oil and sugar or mirin. I heat oil in a skillet, then coat the skin side with the sauce and lay it in the oil skin side down. I put the skillet in the oven for about 5 minutes to let the skin get crisp, then I take it out and drizzle more sauce on the top. Using a metal spatula I flip the eel and cook it in the oven for another minute or two. I serve it over steamed Japanese rice. As I cook rice, I like to add sliced carrots to the pot so it all steams together. When the rice is done, I often stir in spinach, watercress or pea shoots until they wilt; it's an easy way to add vegetables to my diet . Simple, quick, so tasty—and the cheapest Japanese meal I can think of.