Smoked Eel

Sun, Aug 17 • 0

“Out in the wild, they are slippery slimy creatures… On the plate, though, it’s a different story.”

On my recent trip to visit family, we had lunch at a german restaurant called the Hofbrauhaus — as close to an authentic german beer garden as I’ve seen since my summer in Europe, 20 years ago. Over a lunch of grilled sausage, mashed potatoes, and sauerkraut, my father-in-law described a vivid memory from his youth, where his German grandfather would keep a piece of smoked eel wrapped in wax paper on the window sill. He told me that he hadn’t had it in years, but had scoured the authentic delicatessens in Cincinnati to no avail. He did say that he had managed to find some at a delicatessen here in Northern Virginia, upwards of 30 years ago, and he wondered if the place was still in business. I told him that I knew of one in the area that he was talking about, but wasn’t sure if it was the exact same place. I promised that I would stop in the next time I was in the neighborhood and see if they had any eel for sale.

Well, I sort of forgot about it. Then I called him to talk about something else, and he said “you found it!” After I got over my confusion, he said he was sure I was calling him to tell him I had found some smoked eel for him. I decided that my priority project for the next day was to make a trip out to the German deli and confirm if it was even available. Sure enough, they had some — though it was from a Canadian company, in a vacuum sealed package, and frozen. I bought the two larger of the four pieced they had, put it all in an insulated envelope, picked up a slab of dry ice, and headed off to Fedex.

Admitting that I was shipping something with dry ice was probably my first mistake. I couldn’t use their white overnight boxes, but had to purchase a box, and I paid a small fortune in shipping fees. It arrived the next day, and my father-in-law was thrilled.

I sent him an email to find out how it was, and if it was everything he remembered. He reported that he recalled being able to flake it off to eat on a cracker, and what I sent was much firmer than he remembered, but that the smell, and the flavor was perfect. And now, he’s looking for more. So I did a little google searching to see what’s out there. Most companies that sell it are in the UK.

Globe and Mail : “Serving up a slithery, dwindling delicacy,” a news story (6/17/07) about how the Canadian eel population is in decline, down 90% from 30 years ago.

Brown & Forrest, U.K. Purveyors of the smoked eel, salmon and other smoked foods.

Medallion Smoked Salmon, based in Prince Edward Isle, Canada, 1 888 448-3001

Ummera (Ireland) offers smoked silver eel and will lets you subscribe to a mailing list that will alert you when they have product to ship.

Blog : confessions of a food nazi : smoked eel recipes “I don’t know what the prejudice is about eels. Sure out in the wild they are slippery slimy creatures, things you wouldn’t want to feel brush your leg while swimming in a lake. On the plate, though, is a different story.”

I decided to do a search for the german name (Aal Filet geräuchert), and came up with a german company that appears to be willing to ship it. The site is in German, and the prices are given in euros.


Fish Market : What to Buy, What to Avoid

Wed, Jul 16 • 1

Monterey Bay Aquarium provides an excellent list of which fish and seafood to buy and which to skip.

It’s fully hyperlinked, so you’ll find out why you should avoid a particular fish. Orange Roughy, for example, is a fish I’ve bought and wrote here about in the last few months, but I had no idea it was on the avoid list… (due to its slow reproductive rate and potentially high mercury content). I was also surprised to see Atlantic cod on the list (due to overfishing).

You can view the list by region (US only), and you can print the list out, and make informed decisions next time you’re at the market.

Herb-Smoked Salmon

Mon, Jun 30 • 0

I made this one up as I went along, though, now that I think about it, Jamie Oliver probably did something similar on his new series.

I used a prepared spice rub, but you could use your favorite spice mix. I used fresh savory fronds, but fresh rosemary, fennel fronds, or tarragon would probably work well, too.

1 lb salmon fillet
1 t salmon rub
1 bunch summer savory
salt to taste

Heat up a cast iron pan, big enough to hold the filet, and that you can cover with a lid, over high heat. Spray the bottom of the pan with some canola spray. Put in the fresh herbs, and when they start to sizzle, the pan is hot enough. Put the filet on the herbs, skin side up, and cover with the lid. Cook this way for 5 minutes. Lower heat, and remove the filet. Take out the herbs, some of which are probably pretty crisp and smoky by this point. Return the fish to the hot pan, skin side down, and cook to the desired doneness — until the fish just starts flaking.

Beer Batter

Wed, Apr 30 • 0

For shrimp, chicken, fish, even onion rings. For an extra kick, nix the flavorful spices, and mix the eggs with some chipotle peppers in a blender.

2 eggs, beaten
2c flour
2T corn starch
2t baking soda
2t salt
1T flavorful spices — Old Bay, garlic powder … up to you.
2c beer

Mix the dry ingredients together, then add the eggs and the beer, pouring the beer against the side of the bowl. Mix thoroughly, and let rest for 30 minutes. Then dip the fish strips (or whatever) in to coat thoroughly. Fry for 2 minutes on each side in hot (350°) oil.

Salmon Fritters

Wed, Apr 30 • 0

If you’re feeling rich and extravagant, replace the canned salmon with fresh chopped salmon, or lump crab meat.

5 green onions, finely chopped
½ sweet red pepper, finely chopped
1t garlic powder
¼c mayonnaise
1 egg, beaten
6 oz. flaked salmon (canned or in those foil packages)
1/3rd c corn flake coating or bread crumbs plus extra for coating
pinch of cayenne
juice from ½ a lemon

Mix all of this up in a bowl, and then make 4 balls, about the size of a golfball. Roll them around in more corn flakes/bread crumbs. Just before frying, flatten the balls to make patties. Fry in butter over medium heat, 3-4 minutes on each side.

Update, May 17 : I just made these for lunch today, using some leftover pan-fried salmon from the other night, and thought they were far superior to the packaged salmon I used last time. I didn’t explicitly point it out, but if you use fresh salmon, you might be able to get away with using it raw, if you chop it into small pieces, but even cooked salmon works well with this recipe.

Fish Au Gratin

Sat, Mar 15 • 0

This recipe goes against everything I’ve been told about fish and cheese. They’re not supposed to go together. You never put parmesan on, say, shrimp and linguine. This recipe has loads of cheese… three kinds, in fact, and it tastes pretty darned good. When I made it, I picked up a fillet of orange roughy and a good sized slab of mahi-mahi because it was on sale, but you can use any fish you like. And you don’t need to stick to fillets. Whole fish, cut up and made into 1 inch steaks would work, too. And you don’t need to cut the skin off the fillets. You’ll be poaching them first, and when they come out of that, the skin and the bones will come out easily. Adding the lemon juice to the white sauce is more than just for flavor. It denatures the cheese, and makes it less likely to go all stringy on you.

2 or 3 fish fillets, whatever looks good at the market.
2T vinegar
½lb  frozen ez-peel shrimp (optional)
1c shredded gruyere
½c shredded emmentaler
¼c shredded parmesan
2T butter
3T flour
1 green onion, chopped
¼c white wine / hard cider / cognac
2c milk
zest of 1 lemon, plus the juice from ½
salt, pepper
fresh grated nutmeg

In a saucepan of water, poach the fish fillets and shrimp in with the vinegar for about 15 minutes. Drain, and cool, and then remove any skin, bones, or shells, or otherwise inedible bits, and break the fillets into bite sized chunks and put it all in a gratin dish.

Meanwhile, saute the onion in the butter, and add the flour to make a roux. Add the alcohol, and let that bubble away for a bit, then add the milk, and make a white sauce. Off the heat, add the cheeses, the zest and the lemon juice. Ladle over the fish. Cook in a 375° oven for 45 minutes. Serve over rice.

“En Papillote”

Wed, Jan 30 • 0

roughy.gifSo the other day, my wife said she wanted fish for dinner. The pickings at the fish counter seemed pretty slim, but there were some orange roughy fillets, a firm fleshed white fish, that looked pretty good, so I picked up a couple. It occurred to me that I should try cooking them in a pouch. So I picked up some aromatic vegetables — a leek, and a parsnip. I also picked up a yellow squash, to round out the meal. Now I needed to think of a liquid that would work with all of these things. I settled on a bottle of extra-strong ginger beer.

So, I preheated the oven to 450°, and then I cleaned and sliced up the leek, and softened it in some butter in a frying pan. Then I julienne’d the parsnip, and put them in with the leeks, and added about a quarter cup of the ginger beer, and some salt, and popped on the lid, letting them steam for a couple of minutes. I’ve also found this great sweet and smoky paprika spice mix — not sure who puts it out, but I’ve been sprinkling it in everything lately.

Traditionally, “en papillote” is done in a parchment paper pouch, but I used some aluminum foil instead. I sprayed it with a little canola oil spray, though there was enough liquid left from the softened vegetables, it wasn’t necessary. I laid out the fish on the foil, and topped it with the softened veggies, and then diced up the yellow squash, and topped it with that. Then I folded up the edges of the foil and made a tightly closed packet, and popped it on a cookie sheet and into the oven for — not exactly sure. 30 minutes, maybe. I don’t think the timing was particularly critical, since the steam was gently cooking the fish, and there was still plenty of liquid left. For all I know, I completely overcooked it, but it still came out great. The fish was firm and sort of reminded me of lobster meat. I served it over the multi-grain israeli couscous that T.J.’s sells.

Trust Your Nose

Thu, Jan 3 • 0

tilapiaIf you read my entry about the oven fire I discovered in the middle of the night last month, you remember the acrid smoke from burnt aluminum foil that I described. That smell lasted for three days, give or take.

Now I have a new smell to deal with. Let me tell you what happened.

Last night, I was frying up some tilapia. My usual process is to cut the filets in half, season them with some Old Bay, toss them in lightly in flour, being sure to pat off the excess. Then I dip the fish in either an egg wash, or, as I did last night, dip them in a bit of buttermilk seasoned with a tablespoon or two of hot sauce. Then a coating of panko. Fried in a half inch of hot oil, a couple minutes on each side until golden brown.

That’s where I ran into trouble. Instead of using the new bottle of canola I had within arm’s reach, I decided to go for the three-quarters empty gallon jug of peanut oil that I bought sometime in the distant past. When I opened the jug, I did get a faint whiff that the oil might be rancid, but nothing that knocked me off my feet or anything. I poured it into the pan, and heated it up. From the start, things didn’t seem to be right. As the oil heated, I noticed little white bubbles of foam coming up from the bottom of the pan. I’d never seen that happen before. Still undeterred, I tossed in three pieces of fish. The whole pan covered over with that weird white foam. That’s when the weird, super rancid oil smell hit. As the pan got hotter, the smell got stronger. And then the oil started to smoke. This was peanut oil — it doesn’t have the highest smoke point of oils on the shelf, but it’ll go until 300° before it starts to smoke. Clearly, something was wrong. I tossed out the three pieces of fish – total loss – and poured the hot oil into an empty milk carton, and rinsed out the pan as best I could, and started again, this time with that fresh canola. Too late though, for the smell, which still lingers and reached into every corner of the apartment.

I’d stored the peanut oil badly. Oils like cool, dark spots, without exposure to a lot of air — in a jug, that means minimizing the surface area exposed. This jug of mine was sitting out in the light, for who knows how long.

Lesson learned : trust your nose and avoid any oil that seems even a little bit off.

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