How to Cook Eel, an Elongated Fish

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Fresh smoked eel

How to Cook Eel, an Elongated Fish

Although eels look like water snakes, they are actually elongated fish. There are many species and they can be from 2 inches in length to 13 feet.

Most eels live in the shallow waters of the ocean and are nocturnal.

But the American eel lives mostly in freshwater and returns to the ocean to spawn.

Recipes using eel were common in 1800s cookbooks, but so far I haven’t seen any in cookbooks printed in the 1900s and later.


These are usually in mud, among weeds, under roots or stumps of trees, or in holes in the banks or the bottoms of rivers. Here they often grow to an enormous size, sometimes weighing as much as fifteen or sixteen pounds. They seldom come forth from their hiding-places except in the night, and in winter, bury themselves deep in the mud on account of their great susceptibility of cold.

There is a greater difference in the goodness of eels than of any other fish. Those taken in great floods are generally good, but in ponds they have usually a strong rank flavor. Except the middle of summer, they are always in season.

Inquire, before buying, where they were caught, and give so decided a preference to country eels and refuse those fattened upon the offal of city wharves. Nor are the largest eels the best for eating. One weighing a pound is better for your purpose than a bulky fellow that weighs three.

Skin an eel by wrapping a stout cord around its neck just behind the gills. Cut a ring through the skin just below the cord, being careful not to cut too deeply into the flesh. Grasp the skin with a pliers and peel it off all the way down to the tail. Remove the head, fins, and entrails, and carefully extract all the fat from the inside.

Cut into short pieces a pound and a half of eels which have been skinned and cleaned. Put into a saucepan, cover with cold water, add a tablespoon of salt, six whole peppers, one red onion, and a cup of vinegar. Simmer for half an hour, drain and serve on a platter with melted butter, lemon-juice, and minced parsley.

Melt an ounce of butter in a stew-pan, add a handful of sorrel* cut in large pieces, a dozen sage leaves finely minced, five pounds of eels cut in pieces, and seasoned with pepper and salt. Then put in two anchovies boned and minced, half a nutmeg, and half a pint of water. Stew them gently together for half an hour, take out the onion, squeeze in a lemon, and lay toasted bread round the dish. Half this quantity will be sufficient for a small dish.

*sorrel – a garden green with a tart, lemon flavor. The larger leaves were used for soups and sauces and the young leaves for salads.

Take a fine large eel and clean it well. Force the inside with crumbs of bread, an anchovy cut fine, salt, pepper, a little nutmeg, and two or three oysters bruised, with some parsley shred fine. Fill the inside as full as you can, sew it up with fine thread, turn it round, and run a small skewer through it to keep it in its folds. Put it into a small stew-pan, with an onion stuck with cloves, and a bundle of herbs. Pour over it red wine, cover the pan down very close, and let it stew gently till tender. Take out the onion, &c. and put the eel into a dish and a plate over it. Thicken the sauce with butter rolled in flour, and squeeze a little lemon into the plate. Garnish the dish with fried oysters, horseradish, and lemon.

Cut a large cleaned eel into joints and soak for several hours in cold water, to which salt, pepper, and vinegar have been added. Drain them before cooking. Do not cover them with batter, but dredge them with just flour enough to absorb all moisture, slightly salt them, then cover them with boiling fat, as for doughnut cooking. Many New England families use corn-meal to dredge them with instead of flour. When done, drain on brown paper and serve with tomato sauce.

Skin, clean and cut up a large eel. Dip into beaten egg, then into crumbs seasoned with grated lemon rind, nutmeg, minced parsley, sweet herbs, pepper, and salt. Broil skin side down on a buttered gridiron, turning when done. Serve with anchovy or tartar sauce.

Clean half a pound of small eels and set them on the fire with three pints of water, some parsley, a slice of onion, and a few peppercorns. Let them simmer till the eels are broken, and the broth good. Add salt, and strain it off. This should make three half pints of broth, nourishing and good for weakly persons.

Skin, clean, and cut up two large eels. Cook with one tablespoon of butter, half a cup of chopped mushrooms, a tablespoon of chopped parsley, a minced onion, a bay-leaf, salt, pepper, the rind of a lemon, a wineglassful of Sherry and a cup of beef stock.

Cook until the eels are tender, strain the sauce, and thicken with butter and flour. Line a baking-dish with pastry, put the eels in it, and pour the sauce over, with sliced hard-boiled eggs on top. Cover with pastry, brush with yolk of egg, and bake for an hour in a moderate oven.* Serve either hot or cold.

*moderate oven – about 350-400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Skin and parboil, cut into two-inch pieces, and put into a baking-pan. Dredge with flour, season with salt and pepper and add half a cup of water. Bake for twenty minutes and take it out. Thicken the gravy with a tablespoon of flour rubbed smooth with a little of the liquid. Add a tablespoon of butter, a teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce, and enough boiling water to make the sauce of the proper consistency. Bring to the boil and pour around the eels.

Clean and cut three pounds of eels into six-inch lengths. Cover with salt, let stand for three hours, then rinse thoroughly. Boil together for fifteen minutes one cup of vinegar, one cup of water, a sliced onion, two bay-leaves, three allspice, and a slice of lemon. Put in half of the eels and simmer until tender, take out, and cook the remaining half. Let the vinegar cool before pouring over the eels.

Take a good large eel, draw and skin it, and cut it in pieces of four inches long. Spit them crossways on a small spit, with bay leaves, or large sage leaves between each piece. When roasted, serve up the fish with butter beaten with orange or lemon juice, and some grated nutmeg.

Cut up three pounds of eels into pieces of three inches in length. Put them into a stew-pan, and cover them with Rhine wine (or two-thirds water and one-third vinegar). Add fifteen oysters, two pieces of lemon, a bouquet of herbs, one onion quartered, six cloves, three stalks celery, a pinch of cayenne, pepper and salt to taste. Stew the eels one hour, remove them from the dish, and strain the liquor. Put it back into the stew-pan with a gill* of cream and an ounce of butter rolled in flour. Simmer gently a few minutes, pour over the fish, and serve.

*gill/jill – a liquid measurement; four ounces in the U.S. and five ounces in the U.K.

Image from Deposit Photos


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I'm a writer who focuses on the outdoors and travel. I share my time between Alaska and Colorado, where, when I'm not writing, I enjoy camping, kayaking, hiking, fishing, and skiing (often with dogs in tow). My byline may also be seen in publications such as The New York Times, National Geographic, The Washington Post, The Guardian, Condé Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure, and others.


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