Ireland is home to some of the tastiest eels in Europe.
Every year between May and October, Lough Neagh Fishermen’s Co-operative Society ship boxes of live eels packed in ice from Belfast International Airport to Heathrow and Schipol.
In England they are jellied, in Holland they are smoked, but in Ireland they are shunned.
An oily fish rich with omega 3, the Dutch eat more smoked eel than fresh eel.
Dutch eel-smokers only smoke the fatter fish, because it tastes better, and that is why they covet Irish eels.
When the Dutch do cook fresh eel they follow a centuries old tradition that can be traced from the Flanders shore northwards into the Fresian sands and around into the Baltic. This is eel soup.
Another tradition has eels lightly dusted with flour and fried in hot oil. This dish is still popular on both shores of the Adriatic.
In Italy it is served in a tangy sauce.
On the Balkan shore, in Montenegro, the eels of Lake Skada are a treasured delicacy. Here fried eels are served with rice.
Hanseatic Hamburg shared a culinary tradition with the coastal and river towns from the Thames of London across to Flanders, Holland up to the Wadden islands around into the Baltic.
This was characterised by the varying methods of cooking popular fishes, which for many seafarers was the enigmatic eel. More often than not it was a choice between soup and sauce.
Jan Morris, that intrepid travel writer of the post-WWII era, described the soup as ‘one of the great seamen’s dishes of Europe’. In Hamburg’s wharf restaurants it was served with prunes and onions, garnished with herbs and ‘washed down with beer-and-schnapps’.
It still is, but it is a little bit more expensive than it used to be.
1.5 litres fish stock 1 kg eels, cut into 5 cm pieces 500 g prunes/pears, sliced 250 ml white wine 100 g peas 1 carrot, cubed 1 celery stalk, sliced, cubed 1 white leek stalk, chopped 4 parsley sprigs, chopped 1 tsp black pepper, freshly ground Salt, pinch Wine vinegar, splash
Simmer eel pieces in stock, vinegar and seasonings for 15 minutes, strain stock into separate pot, set eels aside.
Put the vegetables into the stock, pour in the wine, cook over a medium heat until carrots are soft, add eel pieces and prunes/pears, simmer for five minutes.
Garnish with parsley.
This is the Dutch version.
1.5 litres salted water 1 kg eels, cut into 5 cm pieces 50 g capers, chopped 45 g butter 45 g flour 12 parsley sprigs, chopped Salt, pinch
Simmer eel pieces in salted water for 15 minutes, remove eels.
Combine flour and butter with three tablespoons of eel stock.
Put the capers, parsley and roux into the stock, bring heat up, boil for five minutes.
Reduce heat, simmer for ten minutes.
Arrange eel pieces in soup bowls, cover with stock, garnish with parsley.
Paling in’t Groen
Further south in Flanders eel was served with a green sauce made with fresh river herbs and wild leaf vegetables, one or more of a choice from chervil, sorrel, spinach, watercress and wild garlic leaves.
The sauce should be aromatic and not too thick.
1 kg eel, cut into 5 cm pieces 1 litre fish stock 300g green herbs/vegetables, chopped small 25g butter 25g flour 1 lemon, juice 1 mint sprig 1 parsley sprig Black pepper, freshly ground, pinch Salt, pinch
Poach eel in stock over a low heat for 15 minutes. Make a light roux, add 350ml of stock, bring to the boil, add greens, lemon juice and seasonings, reduce heat and cook for five minutes. For a thinner sauce use a little more stock. Coat the eel pieces with the sauce, garnish with mint and parsley. Serve with fries.
500 g eels, cut into small pieces 120 ml vinegar 1 garlic clove, crushed 1 sprig rosemary Flour, for dusting Oil, for frying Salt, large pinch
Combine flour with salt, and dust the eel pieces lightly.
Heat oil to almost smoking point, fry eel pieces quickly on all sides, remove and keep warm.
Boil vinegar with garlic and rosemary for five minutes.
Arrange eel pieces in a large bowl. Drizzle vinegar sauce over eels, serve.
Jegulju na Orizu
Lake fish – carp, eels, perch, pike, trout – are one of the great delicacies of Europe.
The Swiss will argue that their lake cuisine is unquestionably the most diverse.
The Hungarians will question that haughty assumption.
The Montenegrins will shake their heads at these notions and suggest a visit to Lake Skadar.
Shared with Albania, this basin of water sits inside the mountains that separate the Adriatic coastline from the Podgorica plain.
Carp dishes predominate and grilled eel is popular, but it is eel on rice that attracts diners to lake shore restaurants.
This version is courtesy of Ivan Georgijev at Kormoran.
- 1 kg eel, cut into 4 cm chunks
- 300 g rice, parboiled
- 200 g carrots, chopped
- 200 g onions, chopped
- 1 lemon, juice
- 4 bay leaves
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 10 g Vegeta
- 1 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
- 1 tsp salt
- Olive oil, for frying and cooking
- Water, for cooking
Dust eel pieces with salt, dry in oil in a frying pan over a high heat, two minutes each side, remove, set aside.
Add a little more oil to the pan, and sauté carrots, garlic and onion, about ten minutes.
Add rice, seasonings and spices, stir, reduce heat to low, adding three tablespoons of water, cover and cook for 10 minutes. Remove from heat, leave to rest for ten minutes.
Preheat oven to 180°C.
Spoon rice mixture into oiled baking tray, arrange eel chunks on top, splash each with a little oil.
Bake for 30 minutes.
Serve with a squeeze of lemon juice.