I sat there for a minute, wondering. I love food, and I love to eat. But I'm not very good at killing things. I mean, I don't mind squishing the odd ant that has found a way into my kitchen, or making a mosquito shaped splash on my bedroom wall, but anything bigger than that.....not so much.
So I talked to Frankwin, a Dutch friend who grew up in the province of Zeeland and had experience with these things. And to our sous-chef who was going to go into this eel adventure with me. And I looked online to see what the most humane way to have an eel go from icky slimey to yummie smokey was, and it seemed that there was no easy way.
All week I read about eels. How they start as little glass eels and swim their way around the ocean before finding a place to grow and get fat and tasty. How they have two skins, the outer one a slimy, icky one and a thinner black one, and that you have to strip the slimy one before you can do anything with the eel. And that there are very few eels left and so the price is high and the availability scarce. And how there's a better availability in other areas of the United States but somehow Idaho was not on the eel-map. Chris, a kind and encouraging reader of the blog, would even send me pictures of how to smoke eel (something he does frequently, and well!) and give me tips and suggestions for when the precious cargo would arrive.
|Try to get the biggest pieces|
Nevertheless, the desire for smoked eel kept making waves in the back of my head, figuratively speaking. Imagine my surprise when I walked into the Asian market in Boise, shopping for completely unrelated items, and my eye spotted the word "eel" on a package in the freezer. Yes!!! Yellow eel steak from Vietnam, neatly cut into four inch pieces, peeled off its squishy coat, and best of all, frozen stiff. Deader than dead, and ready for cooking.
Smoked eel is a Dutch delicacy. The eel is long, fat and meaty, and one eel will easily feed two people. Gerookte paling, or smoked eel, is available at the visboer (fishmonger) or at one of the many local herring shacks around town. It's one of the many types of fish that people buy as a snack, much like the smoked mackerel or herring. Yellow eel is a younger, therefore thinner eel, but will do to get a taste of gerookte paling.
|Swimming in brine|
2 cups water
1 heaping tablespoon salt
Thaw the eel, rinse it and place it in a container. Dissolve 1 tablespoon of salt in two cups of water and pour over the eel, making sure they're covered. Brine the eel in the fridge for at least three hours but not much more.
Pour off the brine, rinse the eel, pat it dry with some paper towels and allow it to air dry on a cookie rack or grill rack, something that will allow for air circulation. Smoke will adhere best to dry matter, so make sure the eel has a chance to dry on all sides. A small fan placed on the fish will speed things up. Don't spend more than thirty minutes.
Start the smoker and place hickory chips on your tray. Place the eel on the racks, close and smoke on low temperature for approximately 30 minutes. The skin will be golden and slightly wrinkly. Don't smoke the eel too hot, because the fat will cook out of it, and you'll be left with fish sticks, and not the right kind!
To eat the eel, especially the thinner yellow eel, it's easier to insert both thumbs into the rib cavity and gently pull the sides apart. Peel the meat off the skin (or the other way around, whatever comes easiest) and snack away! Bones and skin are not edible.