Tag Archives: stews and casseroles

Preparing, Sourcing & Cooking Eel

The last of a trilogy of posts on the subject of eels. This time a recipe for an eel stew and some help with preparing them.

Sourcing Eel

The first time I cooked with eel I used wild ones – something I won’t be doing from now on; the sustainable cook as we have learnt buys only farmed eels. Ask your fishmonger if he can get them for you. If he can’t then you have four options: (1) go to a fishery that supplies eels where you are most likely to have to buy in bulk; (2) if you live in or near London, go to an eel, pie & mash house and pick some up there; (3) order some frozen ones already cleaned from the very good people at The Fish Society; (4) catch some yourself in an eel trap. If you live outside of the UK, eels are much easier to find.
I remember getting my eel order from Dave Yarwood from Out of the Blue in Chorlton. He had driven all the way to Sandbach at some god-awful time in the morning only to get there to find no one around, though he found a note on the door of the suppliers saying the eels were in a bag in a stream round the back! I arrived at his shop and there they were – three freshwater eels swimming around in a polystyrene box. I got a taxi back home with three eels sloshing about in their tank – quite a surreal experience, I can tell you.

eels

Preparing Eel

There’s a good chance that if you are going to have to do away with them yourself, this is because eels begin to break down very quickly after death. There is a lot of advice out there on what is the best way to do this. If you look in English Food by Jane Grigson says to ask your fishmonger to do the dirty work. It used to be thought that eels had to be skinned whilst still alive, but this is not the case. Larousse Gastronomique gives you these instructions on how to prepare an eel:

To kill an eel, seize it with a cloth and bang its head violently against a hard surface. To skin it, put a noose around the base and hang it up. Slit the skin in a circle just beneath the noose. Pull away a small portion of the skin, turn it back, take hold of it with a cloth and pull it down hard.

Well it’s not quite as simple as Larousse makes it sound; killing an eel is not like killing a regular fish, i.e. one thump to the back of the head and it’s gone, no, they keep on wriggling and writhing for a long time after you’ve ‘killed’ it. The best thing to do is to put the eels in iced water or in the freezer until they become very slow and docile, then hit them hard against a wall, stone or some other sturdy surface. You’ll find that after several hits that it is still moving about; it’s quite distressing, but the eel is dead, though its autonomic nervous system takes a while to shut down, though I’ve no idea how this happens and why it’s so different to other fishes. You can now either try the skinning method described above or behead them and then skin them. Have a look here at my original eel post from Neil Cooks Grigson, scroll down to see a rather gruesome video of some headless eels swimming about in my sink.

To skin them use a pair of pliers and a little salt to help get a purchase on the skin. Once you have got going the skin comes of satisfyingly easy like a long thin sock. Don’t be alarmed if the eels start moving again – this is from the salt triggering their nerves to start firing.

Now gut and clean the fish; make a cut from its anus – you’ll see it, about halfway down – to the neck end and pull away any innards from the rib cage. Give it a rinse and you are done.

Sedgemoor Eel Stew

One thing I have not mentioned is how well eel eats. It really is a delicious fish – its flesh is mild and delicate, don’t be put off by its snake-like form and sliminess. It is similar to salmon, but a little richer and much moister due to its high fat content and they are not in the least bit muddy-tasting. This is the first eel recipe I ever cooked and it is by far the best. It appears in English Food by Jane Grigson. The eel is cooked in a sauce made of cider, stock and cream. Sedgemoor is in Somerset in the south-east of England where most English recipes for eel come from.

eel stew

Ingredients

1 ½ to 2 kg (3 to 4 lb) freshwater eel

dry cider

150ml (¼ pint) double cream

4 tbs chopped parsley

salt and pepper

triangles of fried or toasted bread

Begin by cutting the eel(s) into even-sized portions of around two inches in length. Season them lightly. Make a stock from the eel heads and skin as well as the flat part of the tails: Place the trimmings in a pan and cover them with half-water, half-cider. Bring to a boil and then cover and simmer for 20 minutes.

Arrange the eel pieces in a shallow pan and pour over enough hot stock to just barely cover them. Gently poach the eels for 10-15 minutes depending on the girth of your eels until the eel meat starts to come away from the bones. Don’t let the stock come to a proper boil though – steady poaching is the key. When cooked, remove the eel pieces and arrange them on a serving dish, cover them and keep them warm.

Now make the sauce by boiling down the cooking liquor to a good strong flavour and then add the cream and parsley. Season again if required. Pour the sauce over the eel and serve with the fried bread or toast.

P.S. Delicious as eel maybe, beware if someone offers you raw eel, say as sashimi. Eel blood is toxic before it is cooked, so if you get served a bloody bit, it could be a bad man trying to do away with you.

5 Comments

Filed under Britain, cooking, food, General, Recipes

Braised Lamb Shanks

Here is a recipe of mine that I cook on a regular basis these days. I love lamb, but it is a wee bit pricey over here in the States compared to Britain, so to cook it here regularly, I go for the cheapest available cut – the shank. When I think of famous British lamb dishes, it is one that springs straight to mind, and yet, it is missed out of Jane Grigson’s English Food. (For those of you not in the know: I am trying to cook every recipe in the aforesaid tome – this link – and part of this blog’s job is to fill in the gaps.) At some point, I shall write a blog post about lamb and mutton in general with a list of British dishes – I will be aiming to add every recipe for those dishes too.

The shank is the bottom part of the rear legs of the sheep, and it is normally removed from the upper portion; the meat in the shank is much tougher than the rest of the leg and therefore needs to be cooked longer, if you wanted to roast an entirely whole leg, you would either end up with tough shank meat, or overcooked leg meat. So long, slow cooking is what you need for lamb shanks – if you look at one, you’ll see that there is a lot of connective tissue there, and it is this that takes time to break down. If you haven’t cooked this cut of meat before don’t be squeamish – this tough tissue becomes wonderfully soft and unctuous if you treat it right and it is very easy to cook. All you need is a little time…

When I was doing the research for this recipe, I expected to find many old recipes for this classic, and yet I couldn’t a single recipe for it from the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries – many books mention the cut, but use it only for stock-making. However, they do suddenly appear around the time of the Great War. So perhaps rationing made this dish popular. If anyone has any information on this, I would be most grateful.

The recipe I give here is simple and straight-forward and can easily be played around with. Adding some tomatoes and warming spices as well as some dried fruit such as raisins or prunes would give it a Moroccan touch, or adding some chilies, cumin, coriander seed and leaf as well as some crispy-fried onions and yoghurt would make it an Indian-style feast. I am, for the purposes of the blog, going for the classic British style. What makes this recipe good is the inclusion of gently fried onions and a good health dash of Worcester sauce.

Ingredients:

2 large, or 4 small lamb shanks

one roughly chopped onion

one roughtly chopped carrot

one roughly chopped celery stick

one leek, sliced, with trimming reserved

8 peppercorns

a spring each of rosemary and thyme

parsley stalks

a bay leaf

a glass of red wine (optional)

a tablespoon of sunflower oil

3 thinly-sliced cloves of garlic

one thinly-sliced onion

4 oz thinly-sliced mushrooms

one carrot, diced

one leek, sliced

Worcester sauce

salt and pepper

Place the shanks and the chopped onion, carrot, celery and leek trimmings in a roasting tin and roast for 25 minutes at 200⁰C (400⁰F). When nicely browned, place the lamb and vegetables in a large heavy-duty pan, along with the herbs and spices. Deglaze your roasting tin with the optional glass of wine, or simply use some water.

Pour the nice burnt bits along with the wine or water into the pan. Add water to almost cover, bring to a boil and simmer with a close lid for three hours.

When the meat is cooked, fish it out and put on a plate and strain the stock into a jug. Give the pan a quick wipe with a cloth and put it back on the heat along with the oil. When good and hot add the onions and garlic keep them moving in the pan and after three or four minutes, add the mushrooms. Fry for until the onions are tinged with brown. Now add the stock back to the pan along with the carrot and leek and bring to boil, and reduce the stock by around half its volume.

Place the shanks in the pan, turn down the heat and let them warm through again. Season with the Worcester sauce, salt and pepper.

For me, lamb shanks must be served with mashed potatoes and a green vegetable such as broccoli, kale or cabbage.

5 Comments

Filed under food, history, Meat, Recipes