With the start of the new year, I've been contemplating some food resolutions. Most of them involve firming up some practices I already try to keep: cleaning the kitchen more often, buying only produce that is in season and grown locally, feeding the worms more often instead of just throwing away vegetable waste (I'm very lazy about taking compost out to the worms in cold weather).
My only new exciting resolution is this: to try at least one new food experience each week. I started this week with the item pictured here, smoked eels.
I have tasted eels before, but I've never cooked them and I have never tried them smoked. As one does in these modern times, I first consulted the web. And, as sometimes happens, it was absoultely no help. Google yielded a few places where one can buy smoked eels, but nothing on using them in cooking. Epicurious didn't have recipes either. So I decided to wing it.
I decided it would be a reasonable assumption that they would work in the same kinds of dishes as other smoked things, such as salmon and bacon. And since I wasn't too sure of how tasty/fatty/weird the dish would turn out I opted for an evening when the Critic was at a business dinner. It is one thing to embark on food adventures one's self; it is another thing altogether to take your spouse hostage on the trip.
And you know what? It worked really well!
So below is my take on...
Smoked Eel Salad (serves one adventuresome soul)
100 grams smoked eel
2 large handfuls of lettuce
2 small potatoes
6 cherry tomatoes
1 small shallot, chopped finely
a few small pickles (gherkins)
For the sauce:
1/4 cup capers
1 small clove of garlic
1 tsp grain mustard
1 heaping Tbs crème fraîche
1 Tbs mayonnaise
juice of 1/2 a lemon
freshly ground pepper
2 small pickles (gherkins)
Cut the potatoes in small cubes and set to boil. In the meantime, put all the sauce ingredients in a food processor or the cup attchment for your handblender and whizz until smooth. Taste and adjust with pepper and lemon juice to taste. Clean the salad and tomatoes and spread them on a plate.
I wasn't sure whether smoked eel needed to be cooked (some smoked things do not!) but when I opened the package it looked...raw. I put a bare teaspoon of olive oil in the bottom of a frying pan and heated it before adding the eel. Next time, I'll skip the olive oil entirely as it turns out that eels are extremely oily and although much more tender than bacon cook in a similar way. They give up an enormous amount of grease and have a tendency to curl in an endearing way. Also, I started out thinking 100 grams would be twice as much as I would need and in fact it was just right for one salad.
Drain the eels well on paper towels. Drain the potatoes (providing they are done!) and then scatter the eel pieces and potatoes over the salad. Sprinkle with the shallot and drizzle with the sauce. Garnish with the pickles.
The eels were extremely tender with the texture of a delicate fish, such as sole. The flavour was, well, smoky and fishy. The smokiness was superb with the bland warm potatoes as a foil and the sharp shallots added a tang. The caper sauce was superb with everything. I was afraid that - as sometimes happens in salads - the lettuce would end up being just a platform for the other ingredients to rest upon. I was wrong, though: it tasted great with the sauce and became an integral part of the whole. All in all, it was a very good start to the new tradition!
Anyone with suggestions for other new experiences to try, please feel free to let me know in the comments. Alternatively, if you have any other interesting ideas for smoked eels, let me know that as well!