Eel in Cooking: Sustainable & Healthy? Find Out Now!
Eel is a delicacy in many cultures, but it’s not the easiest thing to cook. It’s slippery and hard to handle, and it has a unique taste that’s not for everyone.
It’s often used in Japanese cuisine, where it’s grilled and served with rice and soy sauce. It’s also used in Dutch cuisine, where it’s fried and served with potatoes and vegetables. In British cuisine, it’s used in pies and jellied dishes.
In this article, I’ll share everything you need to know about cooking with eel, from buying it to preparing it and serving it.
In this post we'll cover:
- 1 Exploring the Different Types of Eel-Based Dishes
- 2 The Eel’s Journey Through History
- 3 Getting the Eel Ready for Cooking
- 4 Unleashing the Flavor: Cooking and Savoring Eel
- 5 Saving the Slithery: The Importance of Sustainability and Conservation in Eel Farming
- 6 Is Eel a Healthy Meat Option?
- 7 Conclusion
Exploring the Different Types of Eel-Based Dishes
When it comes to eel-based dishes, Japanese cuisine is perhaps the most popular. Unagi, which is a type of freshwater eel, is the main ingredient in many traditional Japanese dishes. It is usually prepared by grilling and served with a sweet soy sauce glaze. Unagi is known for its fatty content, which means it is high in calories. However, it is also a good source of essential vitamins and minerals.
Other Eel-Based Dishes
Eel is not just limited to Japanese and Chinese cuisine. In fact, eel-based dishes can be found in many different cultures around the world. Here are some other types of eel-based dishes:
- Jellied eels: A traditional British dish made from freshwater eels found in the rivers of the Severn and Thames. The eels are boiled, then set in a natural jelly made from the eel’s own stock.
- Eel pie: Another traditional British dish, eel pie is made by combining eel meat with other ingredients such as potatoes, onions, and herbs, then baking it in a pastry crust.
- Sustainable eel dishes: Due to the declining population of eels in many rivers, it is important to choose sustainable eel dishes. Look for eel dishes made from legally caught freshwater eels, such as those from the Anguilla anguilla species.
The Eel’s Journey Through History
Eels have been a common food source for centuries. They are nutritious and packed with protein, vitamins, and minerals. In fact, eels are so nutritious that they were once considered a cure-all for a wide range of ailments.
The Oldest Eel Restaurant in London
Manze’s, the oldest eel restaurant in London, has been serving upriver eels since 1902. The restaurant has become a staple in the London food scene and is a testament to the enduring popularity of eels.
The Heritage of Eel Fishing
Eel fishing has a long history in the UK, particularly in the Thames River. Eels were once so plentiful in the Thames that they were caught by the ton. However, overfishing and pollution have led to a decline in eel populations.
International Eel Consumption
Eels are not just a British delicacy. They are enjoyed in many countries around the world, including Japan, where they are a popular sushi ingredient. In fact, Japan is the largest consumer of eels in the world.
Eels in History
Eels have played a role in many cultures throughout history. In ancient Rome, eels were considered a delicacy and were often served at banquets. In Norse mythology, the god Loki was bound with the entrails of an eel. Eels have also been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries.
Overall, the history of eels is a rich and varied one, spanning cultures and centuries. From their nutritious value to their place in mythology, eels have left their mark on history.
Getting the Eel Ready for Cooking
- Start by getting a sharp knife and a cutting board.
- Dry the eel with a paper towel to make it easier to handle.
- Grasp the eel firmly and make a small cut behind the head.
- Using the blade, slit the skin circling the eel, leaving about two inches from the head.
- Pull the skin down towards the tail, using a paper towel or disposable glove to get a better grip as it can be slippery.
- Remove the ventral opening and discard the guts.
- Rinse the eel under running water, making sure to remove any remaining membrane or debris.
- Repeat the process on the other side of the eel.
- Crush a few cloves of garlic and rub it all over the surfaces of the eel.
Filleting the Eel
- Lay the eel flat on the cutting board, with the backbone facing up.
- Cut the eel in half, starting from the head and running parallel to the backbone.
- Discard the head and backbone.
- Arrange the eel fillets in a shallow baking dish.
- Season with salt and pepper, and drizzle with olive oil and vinegar.
- Dot with butter and let it sit to marinate for at least 30 minutes.
Alternative Preparation Method
- If you prefer not to fillet the eel, you can also prepare it by removing the head and guts and keeping the skin intact.
- Make a few shallow slits on both sides of the eel, circling it.
- Push a few garlic cloves into the slits.
- Season with salt and pepper and let it sit for at least 30 minutes.
- Grill or bake the eel until the flesh is cooked through and the skin is crispy.
Preparing eel can be a bit of a messy process, but it presents a delicious and unique flavor that is worth the effort. With a little bit of patience and the right technique, you can enjoy this delicacy in a way that suits your taste.
Unleashing the Flavor: Cooking and Savoring Eel
Cooking eel is a delicate process, but when done right, it creates a dish that is deliciously tender and packed with flavor. Here are some ways to cook eel:
- Boiling: This method is perfect for those who want to retain the original taste and texture of the eel. Boil the eel in saltwater until it’s cooked through and tender.
- Steaming: Steaming is another great way to cook eel. It’s a healthier option since it doesn’t require any oil. Simply steam the eel until it’s cooked through and tender.
- Grilling: Grilling eel adds a fantastic deep flavor and crunch to each bite. It’s best to grill the eel after marinating it in a sweet and savory sauce.
- Deep Frying: Deep-frying eel gives it a crispy exterior and a soft, chewy interior. It’s a popular cooking method in Japan, where eel is often served as a snack or main dish.
Eel Taste & More
Eel has a sweet and slightly strong taste that adds a lot of flavor to any dish. The texture of eel flesh is firm and chewy, depending on the variety and cooking method. Here are some more things to know about eel:
- Eel is classified into saltwater and freshwater varieties. Saltwater eels are known for their soft and delicate texture, while freshwater eels are firmer and have a stronger taste.
- Eel is a popular food in many countries, including Japan, China, and Europe. It’s often served as a main dish or snack and pairs well with a variety of flavors.
- Eel is naturally high in protein and low in fat, making it a healthy food choice. It also contains a lot of vitamins and minerals that benefit the body.
- The biggest supplier of eels in the world is Japan, where it’s known as unagi. Unagi is a popular food trend in Japan, and it’s often consumed with alcoholic beverages.
- Eel is also known for its jellied texture, which is created by boiling it in a broth made from its own bones and skin. This dish is often served cold and is a popular food in Europe.
- Eel is listed as an endangered species in many countries, including European ones. Overfishing and growing concern about the impact of commercial fishing on baby eels have led to a decrease in the supply of eels. As a result, eel is becoming more expensive and imported from countries like China.
Saving the Slithery: The Importance of Sustainability and Conservation in Eel Farming
Eels, particularly the American and European species, are critically endangered due to overfishing, habitat loss, and pollution. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has listed them as a threatened species, with populations declining at an alarming rate. According to Greenpeace, eel populations have decreased by 90% in the past 30 years. This lack of sustainability is a serious concern for the future of eel farming and the ecosystems they support.
The Importance of Sustainable Eel Farming
To protect eel populations and ensure their survival for future generations, sustainable eel farming is a priority. Sustainable eel farming involves creating a balanced ecosystem that supports eel populations and protects their habitats. This requires active conservation efforts, such as identifying and protecting critical habitats, reducing pollution, and supporting biodiversity.
The Role of Consumers in Supporting Sustainable Eel Farming
Consumers can help support sustainable eel farming by looking for sustainably sourced eel products. This can be done by checking labels and information sheets to identify eel products that are sustainably sourced and produced. By buying sustainably sourced eel products, consumers can help protect eel populations and support sustainable eel farming practices.
Is Eel a Healthy Meat Option?
Eel is a popular and delicious item found in many different forms and dishes around the world. Despite efforts to improve its availability, it remains a staple primarily in Japan and other countries where it is familiar. Eel is a great source of protein and can work to build up the majority of people’s daily protein intake. It is typically high in fat, but the fat content is mainly unsaturated, making it a healthy option.
The Different Varieties of Eel
There are two primary types of eel: freshwater and ocean. The most prominent variety of eel is the Japanese eel, also known as unagi, which is a delicacy in Japanese cuisine. Eel can be cooked in many different ways, including grilled, marinated in soy sauce, and topped with rice. It is also a common ingredient in hot pot and stock dishes.
The Unique Features of Eel
Unlike other fish, eel contains a defense mechanism in its blood that is toxic when raw. However, when cooked, it is safe to consume and enjoy. Eel is rich in vitamin A, vitamin B12, and omega-3 fatty acids, which are helpful for understanding certain health benefits. According to experts, eel consumption may be helpful in building immunity and preventing certain diseases.
The Controversy Surrounding Eel Consumption
Despite its popularity, there is some controversy surrounding eel consumption. Some people note that the high levels of mercury found in eel can be harmful to human health. Additionally, the overfishing of eel has led to sustainability concerns. However, with proper sourcing and preparation, eel can be a healthy and delicious addition to any diet.
So, that’s it- everything you need to know about eel as a cooking ingredient.
It’s a great way to add some flavor to your dishes, and it’s a delicious way to get some extra protein and vitamins into your diet. Just remember to be careful when cooking with it, and make sure you get a fresh, sustainable species.
Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.