Eel: it's what's for dinner
May 17, 2006 4:53 PM   Subscribe

How do you prepare eel?

Earlier tonight, I finished chopping up a freshly killed eel (I don't know what kind, my dad got it from the supermarket), and I'm starting to think that I'll never be able recover my constitution.

Having never done this before, my strategy was thus:

0) rinse off eel
1) grip firmly
2) immediately regret gripping firmly, as eel flies across the counter
3) begin to cut off head
4) recoil in horror as undead eel begins to move
5) continue cutting, weeping gently
6) etc

Anyway, the whole thing was a huge pain in the rear, and it took a ridiculously long time to do. I couldn't get a good grip, and it was really difficult to take out the stomach (I think it was the stomach) and gills. Also, all my cuts were raggedy and not good looking at all.

Surely there must be a better way. Any tips to make the next time (which, I am told, is soon) a bit easier?

(Also, share your eel recipies! Tonight, mine was described as "hmmm... salty")
posted by Drunken_munky to Food & Drink (15 answers total)
posted by reverendX at 4:58 PM on May 17, 2006

I was thinking the same thing, reverendX! Bbq eel on rice...yum yum!
posted by phoenixc at 5:08 PM on May 17, 2006

Best answer: 1. Use gloves.

2. Prepping eel is more or less the same as prepping fish. You need a very good, sharp boning knife. Instructions here (eel specific), here (also eel specific), and here. This is equipment and feel intensive, but ultimately not hard.

3. The eel was salty (and maybe funky) because you didn't wash/rinse it thoroughly enough. This is important.

4. Eel holds up to all types of cooking, but I think it is most delicious grilled. There are tons of good recipies available. This sounds good. Traditional unagi is tremendous. Here's how to make the sauce
You can smoke it, make soup/stew with it, or just coat it with a seafood specific dry rub, let it sit, grill it over high heat, brush it with good old BBQ sauce and eat it over rice (or better yet, grits!).
posted by kosem at 5:17 PM on May 17, 2006

Iron chef recommends nailing it to the cutting board by putting a spike through its head, and skinning/ filleting the eel while it's anchored to the board. No slipping out of your hands.
posted by boo_radley at 5:18 PM on May 17, 2006

After my own trauma of a dealing with live edibles, including eels, but mostly lobsters, crabs, and oysters, I've concluded unless they arrive dead, much easier to just release them back into the wild.

Best option is to ask your dad to bring it home 'prepared' for cooking from the market-- ask the market people to clean, cut into several pieces, etc.

Here are some recipes. I can vouch for the Capitone Marinato, and especially Chang-O Jorim (similar to Unagi.) Not sure about those particular recipes, found them via random googling.
posted by MD06 at 5:27 PM on May 17, 2006

Best answer: All fish (including eel) are pretty slippery, so filleting them is a bit tricky if you don't know how to hold them. I find it's easier to leave the head on while you fillet, as the head is convenient to hold (especially if you hook your fingers under the gills). Just slice the head off partially on each side without cutting through the spine, then turn your knive horizontal to start your filleting strokes.

If you're removing the skin, remove the fillets from the fish and lay the fillets skin side down. Hold onto the skin with a death grip (fingernails help), and slide the knife between the skin and the flesh, with the knife blade angled ever-so-slightly down toward the skin.

Also, things go much more smoothly if you ask the shop to remove the scales and entrails for you first (which shouldn't cost anything).

Finally, this is something that will be difficult the first couple times, regardless of how much advice you obtain. You just gotta practice.
posted by randomstriker at 5:33 PM on May 17, 2006

I've also seen it prepared by the spike-through-the-head method. The sushi chef then made a slit behind the head, gripped the loose skin with a towel, and skinned it in a single pull from head to tail. But then again he's hardcore and his unagi sauce is made from eel bones that have been boiling away for 2 decades! He just keeps adding fresh bones and water and lets it simmer.

Eel also tastes great as thin butterflied 2-inch wide rectangular fillets coming out of the deep fryer.
posted by junesix at 5:40 PM on May 17, 2006

Eel is one of those foods that sound disgusting until you actually eat it, and you find it's quite tasty. I loves me some good unagi.

(Sorry, can't answer your question--just thought I'd throw that out).
posted by zardoz at 1:40 AM on May 18, 2006

I can not help with the actual gutting of the beast, but can tell you that smoked eel is absolutely lovely.

But, alas, without a sauna chimney to dangle it in, I'm not much help in making it. All the recipes I could find online seem to require some rather special equipment... It's worth it though. So, so very nice.
posted by slimepuppy at 3:26 AM on May 18, 2006

Look hard for a recipe for 'eel in the green'. It is cooked in huge amounts of herbs. It is a Belgian dish my mother-in-law made us once. It is good! I never knew eels were so plentiful.
(I looked on Google, didn't find one right away, but did see it mentioned)
posted by Goofyy at 3:39 AM on May 18, 2006

junesix: But then again he's hardcore and his unagi sauce is made from eel bones that have been boiling away for 2 decades!

Cool, where was this?
posted by blahblahblah at 4:08 AM on May 18, 2006

Best answer: Cleaning eel is one of those jobs I just despise. However, these tricks might help.
1. Use the spike! I use an ice pick to keep the little guy in place.

2. An X-acto blade. No joke. Use the big curved blade. Much easier to have a grip on an x-acto handle than a bigger boning knife, especially when your victim is wiggling.

3. Holding the end of the eel up off the board, begin by cutting a 'collar' around the head. Continue with a lateral cut going down the body from the collar cut, all the way down to the end. This is not a deep cut! Only go through the skin. This flaying of the skin makes it much easier for beginners to pull the skin off.
posted by rhymesinister at 8:04 AM on May 18, 2006

Best answer: Oh, another thought - instead of using one of my cutting boards, I use a cedar grilling plank. The benefits to that: i'm not putting holes in my good boards, the grilling plank will fit in the sink for a final rinsedown of the eel when I'm done gutting and if I want to, the whole package eel and plank can then go onto the grill or in the smoker. Good luck.
posted by rhymesinister at 8:09 AM on May 18, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks guys, the second time around was a much better experience!

(p.s. peeling skin off an eel is strangely satisfying)
posted by Drunken_munky at 4:29 AM on May 19, 2006

blahblahblah: A place in Berkeley, CA called Sushi Sho. One old guy who's slow as hell but he's entertaining and is a fanatic about his fish and how you eat it. Widely referred to as people in the know as the "Sushi Nazi."

His old school unagi sauce is the absolute best. It's really thinned out because he doesn't add any starches to thicken it. It's almost like an eel consomme. After it goes on, you can't even see it on the grilled unagi, it just looks a bit more shiny. But it gives it this really rich, sweet, eel-y taste that's perfect.
posted by junesix at 11:16 AM on May 22, 2006

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