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Thursday, October 13, 2011


Cambridge - Fishing Cove - Eel (2)
Photo by:  jared422_80

L. Anguilla anguilla, Ar. silbāh, MEng angeylles, angoyles, eles, helys, Eng. European eel, baby eel, elver.  Theses fresh water fish include any of the group with long, slippery, snakelike bodies without pelvic fins found in rivers. Eels spawn in the sea and then enter the mouths of rivers where they live until about 10 years old. Then they return to their birthplace to spawn. Eels change sex and females are capable of mating with two males at a time. 

In Spain, they are found in the Basque country and in regions along the Mediterranean.  Hispano Arabs commonly ate eel fresh, salted or dried. A typical Al-Andalus dish was a casserole in which a large eel was skinned, chopped, boiled and then browned in the oven with coriander, saffron, garlic, garum, or broth, oil, salt and pepper. 

Murcia was a major provider of eel to parts of Christian Spain especially during Lent. In Valladolid eel was for those well off economically while in England it was a fish for the poor. There were so many eels in England during the Middle Ages that there was even a “bishop of  eels,” known as the Bishop of Ely, the see of which is located in the town of Ely, Cambridge. It houses an extraordinary cathedral, indicating that although a poor man’s dish especially in Cambridge and Norfolk, during the Middle Ages, tithes from eel fishermen’s profits were outstanding. 

Eels were believed to have grown from horsehair in water. Like snakes, they do not die until sunset. Eel skins were wound around aching parts of the body to relieve pain. Eel-fat enabled one to see fairies and other supernatural beings. By dipping the skin of a live eel into one’s drink, drunkenness was cured. The eels of the Tober Monachan Well in County Kerry, Ireland have guardians that are magical spirits. 

Today, in Spain, these magical spirits are in the festive taste buds alone as baby eels are a luxury dish traditionally served during the Christmas season for those who can afford caviar prices. Villena advises to slice down the backbone of large eels, leaving the vertebra whole. Elvers need only a thorough washing with very cold water. [Benavides-Barajas. Nueva-Classica. 1995:160; Castro. Alimentación. 1996:322:324:325; Curye. 1985:170 Ruíz/Brey. 1965:1105a 178; and Villena/Calero. 2002:23a:38a]

hors d oeuvres or an appetizer
¿Qué comí anoche? Project 365(2) Day 75
(What did I eat last night?)
Photo by: Keith Williamson
For 6 persons

2 tbsp virgin olive oil
1 ½  lb elvers
2 garlic cloves minced
1 tbsp chopped parsley
1 splash of Sherry

Elvers are caught at night as they sleep on the bottom of rivers during the day. They are placed alive in special boxes with tiny holes and layers. The top layer is filled with ice, which melts and falls down to lower layers where the elvers are placed, according to size, keeping them cool. Their bodies are white when caught. During the boxing process they become darker. This does not happen if killed immediately. The elvers are kept in the boxes for a week to loose their muddy flavor and slim. Once this is accomplished they are washed thoroughly with very cold water. The heads are left on because eaters want to see their eyes. Fakes have crept into the market over the years that do not have a black dot in each eye like real elvers have.

Heat a frying pan. Add olive oil . When it is smoking add the elvers and quickly distribute them evenly. In very few seconds, they turn whiter. Sprinkle garlic on top taking care that it does not touch the frying pan for if it does it will acquire a bitter taste. Sprinkled parsley over this. Do not over-cook as it will loose its color and flavor. Finally, splash the elvers with sherry and serve them piping hot with wooden forks. Metal ruins the flavor.

1 comment:

  1. ¡OH las angulas de mi infancia, que mi abuelita traía siempre a casa en Navidad! Instead of the sherry,it was more usual to add a cayena pepper. Anyways, nothing to do with modern "surimi" sold in supermarkets and even fishmongers. The difference is not only of colour, eyes or taste: it is also of texture. I remember well the knacking sensation of the diminutive spine, totally different from the insipid jelly-like "gulas" of today. Better make spaghetti aglio olio e peperoncino instead!