The Joy of Eels

‘Catching the legendary eel at Tangahoe’

Mention eels to most anyone, and the first response is "Yuck." But this seafood is prized in other parts of the world. In Asia and Europe ells are considered a delicacy, smoked eels in particular. Okay, so you say, "Convince me." Well, let's start with the fish itself. Eels come in two varieties: freshwater and marine. Freshwater versions such as the European eel and the American eel are eaten in the U.S. and Europe. Marine eels, such as conger and anago are popular in Japanese and Chinese cuisine. And they ain't cheap. In Hong Kong, prices for select eel dishes range from $129 to $645 per kilogram (2.2 pounds). So, its a royal dish. Not to be out done, there's even an American alternative rock band called the "Eels."

We are more fortunate in that we can find eels at reasonable prices at the local fish store, Asian or Caribbean market. All I'm saying is give it a chance. You'll discover how delicious and versatile they are. Yes, they look like snakes, and they're slimy. But don't let that deter you. Cook the suckers and you're in for a treat. I recall that in the movie version of German author Guntar Grass' book The Tim Drum, the main character, Oskar (who's a dwarf, by the way), goes on an outing at the beach with his parents. On the shore they come across a horse's head (yes, a decapitated horse's head) that is swarming with eels crawling out of its snout, eyes and ears. The mother immediately gets sickened by the sight.  The father, being more practical, takes the eels home, cleans them up and prepares a marvelous dinner. A smart man.

Given below are two simple recipes for cooking eels. Like Oskar's family, you won't be disappointed.


The eel:
     1 1/4-to-1 1/2 pound skinned eel (cleaned weight)
     2 tablespoons butter
     Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
The mustard butter:
      4 tablespoons butter at room temperature
      3 teaspoons mustard, preferably Dijon or Dusseldorf
      3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
      1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
      Tabasco sauce to taste
      Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1. Preheat broiler to its highest setting.
2. Using a sharp knife, score the eel flesh top and bottom. To do this, make shallow 1/8-inch parallel incisions at 1/2-inch intervals. Cut the eels into 6-inch lengths.
3. In a baking dish, gently melt the butter and add eel pieces. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and turn the eel pieces in the butter until coated all over.
4. Place the dish of eel about 4 to 5 inches from the source of heat and broil about 1 and a 1/2 minutes. Turn the pieces and cook about 2 to 3 minutes longer. Pour off all the fat that has accumulated in the pan. Serve immediately with the mustard butter. 
5. To make the mustard butter, combine all the ingredients for the butter and beat rapidly with a whisk or wooden spoon until well blended. Spoon equal amounts of the unmelted butter over the fish sections and serve immediately.
    Yield: 6 servings.


My favorite eel recipe: cut about 1 1/2 pounds of eel or eels into chunks, season with salt and pepper and fry briskly in olive oil for a short time, just enough to stiffen the fish. Remove from the pan and in the same oil, brown 2 tablespoons of chopped onion. When the onion is nearly done, add a tablespoon of chopped shallots, and a 1/4-pound mushrooms, diced small. Put the eel back in the pan, add 1/3 cup white wine and 3/4 cup of tomato sauce. Simmer, with the lid on, for 1/2 hour. Place in a shallow platter, sprinkle with chopped parsley and tarragon, and serve.

Caption: courtesy of The Encyclopedia of New Zealand: Te hopu tuna - eeling
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