During the daytime, it hides in mud. At night, it feeds on small fish, shellfish, insects, and crustaceans.
Baby eels are called elvers. They are caught in the spring, when they will swim all the way up through the ocean from the Sargosso sea into the Severn River, in the West Country of England. Many are caught to be sold live for restocking in other parts of the world.
Eels have flaky, mild-tasting flesh that doesn’t taste or smell fishy.
The Japanese filet and debone eel, then grill it and serve with rice and a sauce. They never serve it raw. When grilled like this, it is called “kabayaki.”
“Anguilla japonica” is the species of eel that lives in Asian lakes and rivers. It will grow up to 2 feet (60 cm) long.
To skin Eel before cooking, make an incision in the skin all the way around at the back of the head. Make a long cut lengthwise, which you will use for gutting them, and then start to work the skin loose with the tip of a knife. Then grasp firmly and pull off. Some use pliers to grab the skin with.
Some people like Eel skin when it is cooked so that it gets crispy.
Literature & Lore
“Large fish ponds were maintained, and the cruelty of Vellius Pollis who fed his lampreys on the bodies of slaves he caused to be slain is well known. This cruelty Domitian disapproved of but should have punished.” — From: Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin in The Physiology of Taste, Section IV. THE TURKEY, Project Gutenberg, Apr 2004. First published Dec 1825. [Brillat-Savarin is referring to a man named “Vedius Pollio”, mentioned in Pliny the Elder’s, Natural History Chapter 9, 39.77. Vedius was a wealthy horse-owner who also owned many slaves, and a friend of the Emperor Augustus. The lampreys were actually electric Eels.]
“The fat Canadian eels will be barging in for the holidays. Look for eels in the fish stores the week before Christmas. Canadian Christmas eels are trapped along the St. Lawrence and the Richelieu Rivers in the Province of Quebec and dumped into especially built barges with underwater comfortably berthed [Ed.: sic] during their fifteen-day journey on to New York.” — Paddleford, Clementine (1898 – 1967). Food Flashes Column. Gourmet Magazine. December 1945.
“Hot eels, which were cheap and, because of their gelatinous consistency, filling, were a favourite of labourers and those who worked outdoors. The sellers bought the eels at Billingsgate; then their wives cut them in small pieces and boiled them, thickening the cooking water with flour and flavouring it with parsley and spices. This stew was sold in halfpenny cupfuls, with a dash of vinegar and pepper, from about 10:30 in the morning to about ten at night. Boys were the hot-eel sellers’ most regular customers, and so popular was the dish that most sellers did not even have to shout their wares; the ones who did called, ‘Nice hot eels – nice hot eels!’ or ‘Warm your hands and fill your bellies for a halfpenny!'” — Flanders, Judith. The Victorian City. London: Atlantic Books. 2012. Page 282, talking about London in the 1850s to 1860s.
In the early 1800s, the celebrity chef Louis Eustache Ude recommended a method of preparing eel for which he was criticized as being inhumane:
“Take one or two live eels; throw them into the fire; as they are twisting about on all sides, lay hold of them with a towel in your hand, and skin them from head to tail. This method is the best, as it is the only method of drawing out all the oil, which is unpalatable and indigestible. Cut the eel in pieces without ripping the belly, then run your knife into the hollow part, and turn it round to take out the inside.
Several reviews (he adds in a note to his second edition) have accused me of cruelty because I recommended in this work that eels should be burnt alive. As my knowledge in cookery is entirely devoted to the gratification of taste and the preservation of health, I consider it my duty to attend to what is essential to both. The blue skin and oil which remain, when the eels are skinned, render them highly indigestible. If any of the reviewers would make trial of both methods they would find that the burnt eels are much healthier; but it is, after all, left to their choice whether to burn or skin.” Hayward, Abraham. The Art of Dining; or, Gastronomy and Gastronomers. In: The Epicure. Issue 57, Vol. V. August 1898. Page 320-321.
“Unagi” is the Japanese word for freshwater Eel.
The Roman word, “Muraena”, referred to either a Moray or Lamprey Eel.
Parker Bowles, Tom. Slippery customers, eels… unless, of course, you give them a good smoking first (ideally in Somerset). London: Daily Mail. 5 February 2011
|Hayward, Abraham. The Art of Dining; or, Gastronomy and Gastronomers. In: The Epicure. Issue 57, Vol. V. August 1898. Page 320-321.