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 eel soup as ‘one of the great seamen’s dishes of Europe’. In the wharf restaurants of Hamburg it was served with prunes and onions, garnished with herbs and ‘washed down with beer-and-schnapps’. It still is in some restaurants, but it is a little bit more expensive than it used to be.
Freshwater anglers have a different interpretation to their seafarer friends. They start with a stock made from fish heads, ham bone, ham rind and onions. They also finish the eels in a white wine-fish stock reduction flavoured with marjoram and thyme, and add this liquid to the stock for the soup.
Some recipes call for small flour dumplings made with milk, flour, eggs, butter, nutmeg and salt to be cooked in the stock at the end.
- 2.5 litres fish stock
- 1 kg eels, cut into 5 cm pieces
- 300 g pears, sliced
- 250 g prunes soaked in water
- 250 ml white wine
- 100 g peas
- 1 carrot, cubed
- 1 celery stalk, sliced, cubed
- 1 white leek stalk, chopped
- 2 parsley roots
- 1 small piece of cinnamon bark
- 4 parsley sprigs, chopped
- 1 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
- 2 bay leaves
- Salt, pinch
- Wine vinegar, splash
Simmer eel pieces in stock, bay leaves, cinnamon bark, parsley root, 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, prunes and pears, simmer for five minutes. Garnish with parsley.