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What it eels like for a girl - shadows of echoes of memories of songs
j4
j4
What it eels like for a girl
On April 30th addedentry and I went to Ely to investigate their Eel Day. We missed the parade and the Morris dancing (not entirely by accident) but decided it was still worth having a sniff at the stalls and activities.

On the whole it was a fairly small village-fête-type affair, but there were some nice displays of well-distilled information about Cambridgeshire's soggy history and, specifically, Ely's eely past. The eels which gave the island its name were famed far and wide as a delicacy, to the extent that the good folk of Ely were able to use them as currency. These days, paying your rent in eels would at best be seen as an ironic comment on the property's floodproofing. Among other fascinating pop facts we learned that eel skin could cure the ague if wrapped around the ailing limb.

Two live eels swam in a fish tank by the information displays. I'd expected them to look snake-like, or fish-like, or both; but twining around each other in the small, confined, space of murky water they were just a slithering mass of dark skin, eyes gleaming through the gloom.

On the other side of the field, the local Wissey Valley Brewery were doing a brisk trade in Eel Catcher beer. I sampled a half-pint and was quite impressed, but when we went back to buy a few bottles we discovered that trade had in fact been so brisk that the bottles had slipped away like eels in the night. Recommended, though, if you see it on sale -- apparently Ely Farmer's Market is the place to go to buy both this and the local cider (which had sold out before we even got there, though the brewery chap was happy to tell us all about how Suffolk cider is made).

Bolstered by the beer, we ventured to the stall that was actually selling eel for the eating. There may well be many convenient ways to eat eel out in the open on a sunny spring day, but at the time the simplest (and cheapest) way to procure a manageable taste seemed to be a small pot of jellied eel. The eel vendor's salesmanship was sufficiently slippery that he also talked us into buying a whole fresh eel "for later". We asked how to cook it. "Just cut it up, dust the pieces with flour and pan-fry them," he said. Simple, we thought; so with only a moment's worry about the advisability of carrying an eel in a plastic bag on the rail-replacement bus back to Cambridge, we selected a small specimen and went to sit by the river with our spoils.

Now, jellied eel is possibly not the most appetising of foods to look at:



but I was quite taken with the taste -- fairly meaty and not too fishy, with a far firmer texture than I'd expected. The only real downside was the bones -- fish bones annoy me even in small quantities, and an eel is basically a long string of bones. (I suspect that, as with sardines and their ilk, you're expected to just manfully crunch your way through the odd segment of spine, but frankly I'd rather chew chalk, so I picked my way delicately around them.) The skin was surprisingly edible and not at all rubbery.

We didn't get round to cooking the fresh eel the next day, and when it came to the crunch, it was almost too cute to cook; it looked almost alive, all curled round in a tupperware box with its smooth grey-green skin and black eyes and tiny half-open mouth. Stroking its head caused its mouth to open a fraction wider, as if it was trying to tell us something ("don't cook me," probably). I wondered if I was developing an unhealthy fixation with eels.

To cook it, though, we had to cut it up. Now, I own a cutting implement branded as The World's Sharpest Knife, which you'd think -- even allowing for advertisers' exaggerations -- would have no problem with an inch of fishy flesh. Again, however, the problem was the bones, and by the time Owen and I had spent ten minutes slowly sawing through eel spine I longed for advances in genetic engineering which could lead us to breed boneless animals.

But to cut a long story (and a longer eel) short, the creature was chopped into manageable chunks and pan-fried as recommended, and added to a Thai-style stir-fry, where it wreaked its revenge on us for taking advantage of its tastiness by filling our bowls (and probably bowels) with tiny bones.

Probably not an experiment I'll be repeating at home, but definitely worth trying.
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Comments
hairyears From: hairyears Date: May 16th, 2005 01:14 pm (UTC) (Link)

Eel meat again

...Sea Eels, or Conger Eels to be precise. Sometimes called Moray Fish: delicious, and readily available on Leicester Market. They have huge bones, and no tiny ones: it's like an aquatic oxtail.

Never had freshwater eels, though.

addedentry From: addedentry Date: May 16th, 2005 01:58 pm (UTC) (Link)

Love lies eeling

It wasn't just the eel's spine that resisted the knife, but its skin, which caught the serrations of the blade like the hooks of Velcro. All the more impressive that in jellied form it had melted in the mouth.
hairyears From: hairyears Date: May 16th, 2005 02:39 pm (UTC) (Link)

Surfeit Accompli

I'll stick to doing the Conger then.
From: rgl Date: May 16th, 2005 02:56 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Surfeit Accompli

Even better than the eel thing?
hairyears From: hairyears Date: May 17th, 2005 01:07 am (UTC) (Link)

Eel Deuce

It's not the eel thing, it's an Elvers Impersonator.
From: rgl Date: May 17th, 2005 06:47 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Eel Deuce

*Groan* That's made me feel a bit eel...
hairyears From: hairyears Date: May 17th, 2005 10:31 pm (UTC) (Link)

The eels are alive with the sound of mewling

Ah yes: Motion sickness. An adverse reaction of anguillar momentum.
From: rgl Date: May 18th, 2005 06:47 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: The eels are alive with the sound of mewling

Ouch! I give up - there's no way I can match that!
j4 From: j4 Date: May 16th, 2005 03:02 pm (UTC) (Link)

More than an eeling

It wasn't just the eel's spine...

Goodness, I didn't think even you could find anything to correct in this post! Shows how much I know, eh. :-/
rysmiel From: rysmiel Date: May 16th, 2005 04:08 pm (UTC) (Link)
My very favourite thing to do with eel is teriyaki - you can get it in sushi most places here, and it's one of the most delicious things I have ever tasted. [ That is freshwater eel, or unagi. Sea eel, which I think is anago, I've not yet found a sushi place serving here, though oddly enough I've had it in Minneapolis which is a sight further from the sea. ]

The other nice thing to do with it is smoked eel, which one can get in Amsterdam airport, I'm nopt off the top of my head entirely certain it would be adequately bone-free for you though. It makes a very cool if extremely self-indulgent pizza topping.
j4 From: j4 Date: May 16th, 2005 04:15 pm (UTC) (Link)
Mmmmmmmmmmmmsushi.

They had smoked eel on the eel stall, actually, and in retrospect I possibly should have bought that instead; I suspect the little fishy bones would be an issue no matter what, but I would at least have avoided the spine-sawing issues, and smoked fish is great.

(Memo to self: must find somewhere that stocks smoked marlin.)
rysmiel From: rysmiel Date: May 16th, 2005 05:06 pm (UTC) (Link)
I've never had smoked marlin - I try not to eat endangered species, and I understand there to be some concern about marlin populations.

One can get smoked emu in several places here, but I have yet to persuade the rest of my family that it would be worth trying.

[ "We need sushi. Lots of sushi." ]
j4 From: j4 Date: May 16th, 2005 05:39 pm (UTC) (Link)
Ah, I didn't realise marlin was endangered -- that a) would explain why I'm not seeing it on sale, and b) means I won't be looking for it after all. It's just that I had it when on holiday in Mauritius several years ago (where/when everywhere sold marlin in one form or another), and it was delicious, but I've never seen it on sale in the UK (though admittedly I haven't looked very hard).
rysmiel From: rysmiel Date: May 16th, 2005 06:48 pm (UTC) (Link)
I don't know whether it's actually endangered - I do know that Old Man and the Sea-sized marlins have disappeared because none of them live to be that old any more, but I do not know whether the remaining population is actually threatened, or if it's just the big ones that get caught in serious proportions of their numbers.
imc From: imc Date: May 17th, 2005 02:57 pm (UTC) (Link)
Google tells me that it escaped being listed as endangered in 2002, but there seems to be some concern over population levels.

It must be on sale somewhere in the UK as bisonfish makes a rather good fish curry with it — but I haven't seen any (not that I've looked hard either).
redbird From: redbird Date: May 16th, 2005 08:34 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'd be happy to try some smoked emu when next I visit.
rysmiel From: rysmiel Date: May 17th, 2005 02:07 pm (UTC) (Link)
We can get some in Fromagerie Atwater, though they do not reliably have it every time.
redbird From: redbird Date: May 17th, 2005 02:13 pm (UTC) (Link)
I've never had emu, but ostrich tastes remarkably like beef (rather than like chicken or duck or turkey). But never having had emu is sufficient reason to get this, in my opinion.
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