Monday, December 1, 2014

Smoked Short-Finned Eel

Eel, as both an animal and a food, is something I've known very little about. When I lived in Hawaii as a teenager I encountered several live sea eels. One was a black and white eel off Waikiki while snorkling, probably a snowflake or zebra moray. The other, a large green moray, was captured with my Marine Biology class at BYU-Hawaii off Laie Point.

My first eel-as-food encounters were in sushi restaurants where I've since become familiar with both unagi (fresh-water eel) and anago (salt-water eel). Eel as sushi tends to have a slightly sweet taste and does not have bones.

About four years ago I bought some charcoal broiled eel from a Chinese market and brought it home for a family meal and it had the same sweet taste that I associate with sushi unagi.

Last year, while in the Balkans, I took a big step forward, eel-wise, during a wonderful meal at Damar Restaurant in Ohrid, Macedonia, where Judy ordered fried eel, fresh from Lake Ohrid, which was just a stone's throw away. This eel looked and smelled very different than sushi eel. It smelled off-puttingly fishy and was in much larger pieces. I was surprised to bite into it and find a back-bone, like a salmon or other fish, but without the annoying rib-bones (I understand that the eel has rib bones, but they are either removed or are not big enough to notice).   The eel was plump, juicy and savory, not sweet at all. I learned that sushi eel is a presentation of one of two flaps separated from the central back bone and that eel is not naturally sweet. Something takes place in the processing that adds the sweetness.

I just took another step-forward in my eel education. I obtained some smoked eel from Exotic Meat Market. It was short-finned eel, a fresh-water eel found in the rivers and lakes of New Zealand, as well as Australia and other nearby islands. Much to my delight, the eel was packaged in its entirety, from head to tail, minus the innards that had been cut-out as evidenced by a cavity that ran along the belly. The eel below is resting on a plate that is 19 inches long, making the eel over two-feet in length. It weighed between two and three pounds.
The entire eel, packaged in plastic, resting on a 19 inch plate. 
Gerookte paling is "smoked eel" in Dutch. It apparently is a Dutch delicacy. 
The short-finned eel has a tiny head, ending in a pointed snout. Further back down the body are gill flaps followed by tiny fins. The other end is one large fin, from a distance almost indistinguishable from the head. I enjoyed looking it over.
Bent, so it fits on the plate.
Fin, gills, eye and mouth in the foreground and tail in the background.
Tiny teeth are visible in the opened mouth.
Using kitchen shears, the eel was cut into sections. The outer skin was loose and rubbery, much like the seaweed used in a sushi roll. The lower section of the eel was bulging with a thick liquid that was visually off-putting, but had a nice fatty, smoky taste. The eel pieces coated with the liquid were incredibly moist and full of juicy smoked flavor. The closest taste I can associate it with is smoked kippers. If you like smoked kippers, you'll love this smoked eel. The eel pieces without the liquid were more dry, but still had an incredible smoky flavor.
Cut-up sections arranged on a plate. Note the loose-fitting outer skin.
The smoked eel without the skin.
For Judy, a little went a long way. I'm smitten. I love smoked kippers and this is easier to eat than kippers.

I love sweet tasting unagi, and I loved the savory fresh eel in Ohrid, but this entirely different tasting smoked eel is the best yet.

Having the entire eel adds an additional dimension to the eating experience. However, for some at our Thanksgiving table, where it was an appetizer, it made it harder to eat. For guests that might be a little squeamish or less adventurous, cutting it into sections and removing the skin before-hand would reduce the mental anguish.

This wonderful product will be on our dinner table again.  


  1. This guy has such an evil-looking head, but what a fun addition to a bland (but tasty) turkey dinner.

  2. Looks great I am a big fan of eel.

    1. We'll have to invite you over for our next go-round. We did have leftovers, in spite of having seven diners. As Bob quoted me, a little goes a long way.