Gerookte Paling

"They'll be in next week", the fishmonger said when I called to see what happened to my order. "We're flying them in from Atlanta, so they'll still be alive when they get here. You don't mind killing them yourself, do you?". And he excused himself and hung up.

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
But I did not get eel. Somehow the order was messed up, or they lost them on the plane, or something happened somewhere, but no eel for me. Which, quite honestly, was a bit of a relief, because I had not yet decided how I was going to tackle this whole eel-killing business. Phew!!

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.

Gerookte Paling
Swimming in brine
2 packages (14oz each) frozen yellow eel
2 cups water
1 heaping tablespoon salt
Hickory chips

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.

Eet Smakelijk!


  1. here you go girl !!

    one of those days you will find the whole eel -
    keep bugging the Asian fishmonger to get them for you ..

    here a batch smoked, by an old Dutchman in Houston Texas.. let me know with enough time to get some - when ever you get a chance to get to Houston - lick your fingers !!

  2. I do like the smoked one to. When I went home most recently we fixed the baked eel with mustard sauce. Yummy :)

  3. Arrisje, what a great recipe, and I love seeing your mom's hands in the pictures! Great food tradition!

  4. Prepared smoked eel for me! Still have memories of them "jumping" around in the bag on the way home from market...after they were slaughtered.

  5. smoke the eel in a smoker and when done take them out, put them in a garbage bag or one of those supermarket plastic bags and add one sliced sweet onion and tie the bag shut.
    let this sit for at least 2 will be the best eal you ever had

  6. What temperature do you smoke these at? I consider smoking "cold" no more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit. If I am correct, let me know, if not tell me what temps you use to smoke these critters. Great Blog. Have been looking to do this and Mackrel for awhile.

    1. You are right, cold smoking should occur somewhere between 80 and 100F for a long period of time. I chose to smoke these and the mackerel at a higher temperature, mainly because they're young eel. I believe my temp was between 120 and 130F for the eel, and up to 150F on the mackerel. Just enough to smoke them good, but not enough to render any of the little fat they have at that point. Hope that helps! Also check Chris's link in the text for more smoking suggestions.

  7. Now and then I buy a ready to eat a broodje paling, a bun sliced in half then filled with smoked eel, at the fish stand on the weekly town market. A true delicatesse!

  8. After years of stripping the skin of smoked eels from the Nijmeegse Kermis in October, and eating them like Toots Tielemans would play the harmonica, I have to rely on import from Vanderveens or
    There once was an eel farm here in Trenton, North Carolina ( where I visited while my mother was still around, but they seemed to have given up business. Now, their business plan (growing eel for bait to catch other fish) may have not been profitable, they still had a license to catch 'glasaal' and grow it. When my mother and I visited them, they were already aware -and enjoying- the smoked eel from their farm, but they never saw the potential to grow eel not for bait, but for human consumption.
    Too bad. Their website is out, their phone does not answer, the owner was full-time drunk, his assistant did not have enough power to run the place.
    Now that I'm retired, I might visit that place again to investigate possibilities.

    1. Kattequaat, do let us know if you do! We could sure use a good palingboer(in) around these parts.......and I am sure I am not the only one to feel that way!


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