Monday, 31 March 2014

In praise of ... Eels

For donkey's years Suffolk foodies have made a Saturday morning trip to the smoking shed at Butley Oysterage - black as night, glistening with tar and carbon, a bit wonky and rough looking as though built out of driftwood. For me, a smoked eel is the height of delight, a wrinkled dark walking-stick of a thing that yields dense, succulent hot-smoked flesh as unctuous as a hot-corn dodger slathered with sap. 

Wild eels were once caught in huge numbers, but in recent years became so scarce they were placed on the endangered list. Most eel smokeries now use farmed Eels, a creature as inferior as farmed Salmon. Hopes are high, however, that assisted re-stocking of our fresh-water living grounds may reverse the decline - as the Indie reports. These tiny glass-eels will adapt physically for the change from sea to fresh water and spend up to twenty years growing to maturity, before returning to the remote Sargasso sea (after another biological change to adapt back to sea-water) to breed. An eel kept in a pond can live to a prodigious age; Athenaeus, writing in the time of Marcus Aurelius, knew tamed eels "wearing silver and gold ear-rings, receiving food from those who offered it, bits of entrails from sacrificial victims, and pieces of green cheese."(uhm, Eels don't have ears). 

Better than hot-smoked wild Eel - and miles, miles better than wild smoked Salmon - is of course cold-smoked wild Eel; a pale translucent tawny, sliced thinly like smoked Salmon; a few slices with endive and a lemon wedge, or with soft scrambled egg on toast is sheer foodie bliss. Unless you catch and smoke an eel yourself, you are unlikely ever to experience this. For those of you in London, the farmed variety is available at Leadenhall Market - but still at a price.

Anguilla anguilla is one fish well worth saving; so if you catch one, and don't intend to eat it, let it go, and wish it God Speed on its 4,000 mile journey to make more eels.


Anonymous said...

Aye, the Iceni always were a strange bunch, speaking as a north Humber-ian - we stayed away from their fish and Gods, we prefer the pelagic variety with chips and mushy peas.
Each to his own, although I am rather fond also of Arbroath Smokies which are truly delicious.

DeeDee99 said...

This is what I like about your blog Raedwald.

In addition to the political columns (which I generally agree with) I occasionally learn about something completely alien to me.

I didn't know about smoked eels. My mother came from an East End family and, as a child, I was once offered jellied eels .... and didn't like them.

I'll look out for the smoked version if I'm ever Suffolk way in the future.

G. Tingey said...

Damn you - I'm dribbling!
Can't stand fresh eel, but smoked - utter heaven!

Sam said...

We once found 6 of them living in a mostly dry stream behind my house in Devon, weren't doing so well. There wasn't a river or stream close enough for them to crawl overland to, so I bundled them in a big black bin with some water from the stream and drove them down to our local mill pond at Stoke Gabriel to let them go, as we sometimes caught them when crabbing. Just another similarity between Suffolk and Devon, this love of Eels.

Also very nice cooked with bacon occasionally.

Mark In Mayenne said...

As a nipper I used to catch eels in our local stream, find them under rocks and put them in a jam jar. Let them go at the end of the afternoon

G. Tingey said...

There was a superb piece on this in today's "Today" programme on R4 ...
they reckoned they had several million elevers, safe to transport up-river.
Excellent stuff.