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London favourite Jellied Eels and other methods of cooking these silver freshwater fish.

Updated on September 02, 2016
Silver freshwater eels
Silver freshwater eels
Portion of jellied eels
Portion of jellied eels
East Enders enjoying jellied eels
East Enders enjoying jellied eels
Oldest eel and pie house still open
Oldest eel and pie house still open

The east end of London is famous for two local foods in particular, both of which are a rather acquired taste. Pie and mash with green liquor is covered in another article but jellied eels we will look at here. Although available all over the east end they are a traditional street food, sold normally in the market area in the famous ‘pie and mash’ shops where they are often eaten as an accompaniment to the pie and mash.

Jellied eels, as eaten today have been made at home or in shops or sold from barrows since the late 18th century. The silver freshwater eel lived in their millions all over Britain but were especially plentiful in the Pool of London. Caught in large quantities by individuals and businesses alike they provided a cheap source of nutritious food for poor households. A little historical fact - up until the end of the 18th century the only nationality allowed to sell silver eels caught in the Thames to Billingsgate Fish Market, were the Dutch, in appreciation of their help to those starving following the Great Fire of London. The first ‘Eel Pie & Mash Houses’ opened in London in the late 1700s and throughout Victorian times there were literally hundreds of such shops. There are many less today but in 1891 the oldest surviving shop called M. Manze, in Peckham, opened and is still serving these traditional foods today.

The recipe given below is just one dating from the mid-1800s but nearly all had the same ingredients varying only in seasoning and herbs which were the particular shops secret.

Recipe for Jellied Eels

Ingredients:

2¼ lb. of silver freshwater eels

1 large onion (peeled and chopped)

2 tbsp of white wine vinegar

1¼ pints of good quality water (best would be still spring water from bottles)

2 eggs, (shell and whites only, use the yolks in other cooking)

1 oz butter (shop bought or home-made)

Juice of ½ unwaxed lemon

3 whole black pepper corns (crushed)

1 large sprig of parsley

1 bay leaf

5 or 6 chive stalks fine chopped

½ tsp of cayenne pepper

¼ tsp grated nutmeg

½ tsp of sea salt

Cooking method

Unless you are experienced in preparing eels I would suggest you ask your fishmonger to prepare, remove the heads and skin your eels, but leave them whole. Using a fairly large saucepan add the water and all other ingredients, except the eggs. Clean the outside of the egg shells first, and then separate the yolk from the whites retaining the egg shells. Crush the egg shells finely and add them to the other ingredients. Raise the heat to a boil, for a moment, then turn down to a simmer for about 15 minutes until the eels are cooked and tender. Leaving the pan at a simmer, carefully remove the eels from the saucepan with a slotted spoon and leave on a plate to cool.

Continue simmering to reduce the liquid in the saucepan by half. While this is going on cut the cooled cooked eels into segments about ¾ inch long and remove any bones. Separately whisk the whites of the two eggs into a light froth and hold to one side. Remove the pan from the heat and strain the stock through a fine sieve to separate the solids then put the strained stock back on the heat to continue simmering. When the stock has reduced a little further add the whisked egg whites, increase to a boil then let it drop back to simmer for another 2 minutes. Strain once again to remove any missed impurities and then leave to cool. Traditionally it is served in small glass dishes so add sufficient cooked eel to each dish and pour in some cooled stock. This requires no gelatine to set as the cooking process of the eel releases proteins, like collagen which results in a jelly like stock.

The chilli vinegar, used as a dipping sauce is very simple. Using a small glass or hard plastic container, add:

2 tbsp of white wine vinegar

½ tsp of Cayenne pepper

3 green Chilles (deseeded and chopped into thin strips)

Shake vigorously and store in the fridge, shake again before use and it should be good for a few months.

The final way to eat Jellied Eels is cold from the glass dishes, with a few drops of chilli vinegar and a wedge of lemon or with pie and mash.

Recipe for Stewed Eels

Ingredients

2 silver freshwater eels, cleaned, gutted and skinned

1 pint fish stock (you may have to buy this or use a stock cube)

5 or 6 chive stalks chopped

1 oz butter (shop bought or home-made)

2 tbsp whole milk

1 tbsp plain flour

Salt and pepper

Cooking Method:

Cut the eels into 2 inch pieces and remove any bones.

Melt the butter into a saucepan add the flour, stir well and cook for just a minute. Slowly pour in the stock and raise to a boil, stirring throughout. Add the pieces of eel and simmer gently for about an hour adding the milk, chive, salt and pepper to taste Serve immediately with the sauce on the side Serve hot with rice or potatoes and green vegetables.

Recipe for Fried Eels

Ingredients

2 silver freshwater eels, cleaned, gutted and skinned

1 unwaxed lemon

1 tbsp sea salt

2 tbsp oil or butter

1 tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped

¼ tbsp fresh fine chopped chives

Plain flour for coating

Cooking Method:

Cut the eels in 2 inch pieces

Put them in a shallow dish, sprinkle them with salt and the juice of half the lemon and allow to marinade for at least half an hour. Blot dry with some kitchen paper and put in a large plastic bag with flour, chopped chives, salt & pepper and shake until uniformly coated. Gently remove and fry in the hot oil until cooked through and beginning to brown Drain and serve immediately as a snack on toast with a little chopped parsley and wedges of lemon.

© 2013 Peter Geekie

Comments

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    • Sue Bailey profile image

      Susan Bailey 3 years ago from South Yorkshire, UK

      Great hub Peter, but I couldn't; I really couldn't. They don't even look nice. Sorry. Voted up and interesting however.

    • Peter Geekie profile image
      Author

      Peter Geekie 3 years ago from Sittingbourne

      Thanks Sue,

      I agree with you I have always thought they look disgusting although thousands of east Londoners absolutely love them. I do, however, like them floured and fried on toast.

      Kind regards Peter

    • Mazzy Bolero profile image

      Mazzy Bolero 3 years ago from the U.K.

      I lived in East London for a while and used to go to a fishmonger stall, where they had buckets full of live eels. They actually sold them still alive. I passed on that one:) I have had conger eel though, which was very tasty. I didn't know it was eel because it looked just like a steak of fish.

    • UnnamedHarald profile image

      David Hunt 3 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      I'd give it a go-- but the fried eels sound pretty tasty. I do believe this is the only recipe that uses crushed egg shells. Did I read that right? I suppose they get strained out? I wonder what they add. Very interesting, peter.

    • Peter Geekie profile image
      Author

      Peter Geekie 3 years ago from Sittingbourne

      Dear Mazzy,

      Yes I remember the buckets of live eels. We would bring them home and cruelly watch them swim in the sink (children are very nasty) If my father was home on leave from the RAF he would prepare them, otherwise my mother would. Conger eel was what we in Devon called "duncow" otherwise known as Huss (although Dog Fish is also known as Huss in other places.)

      kind regards Peter

    • Peter Geekie profile image
      Author

      Peter Geekie 3 years ago from Sittingbourne

      Dear UnnamedHarald,

      Thank you for your comments.

      The crushed egg shells are only used in the jellied eels recipe. I understand they are used as some sort of filter aid and are, of course, sieved out of the jelly. The fried eels are actually rather good.

      kind regards Peter

    • Sharkye11 profile image

      Jayme Kinsey 3 years ago from Oklahoma

      I've never heard of this! My family brought a lot of recipes with them to the new world, but this one didn't make it. Maybe of the lack of eels here in the south? Anyhow, of all the "weird" foods I have heard of, this seems pretty palatable. I would definitely try it.

      The only issue I would have would be with the cold+jelly. I don't even eat cold fruit jelly, I dip my portion from a new jar before it goes in the fridge, lol. No gelatin desserts either. So it might be hard to get around the temperature combined with the texture. Still, it looks like it would be worth a shot! Thanks for the interesting read and for teaching me something new today!

    • Peter Geekie profile image
      Author

      Peter Geekie 3 years ago from Sittingbourne

      Dear Sharkye,

      Thanks for your comment. This is very much a love or hate dish even within London. It's predominantly from East London and a small area of South but most of the rest of England look on with a fascinated horror ! Personally I quite like the fried variety.

      Kind regards Peter

    • Lauranimal profile image

      Lauranimal 3 years ago from So. California

      I far prefer what grows from the ground, nice fruits & veggies, nothing moving that gets killed, gutted, deboned & skinned...ugh! I'm one of those annoying vegans. I love your articles though, and thanks for your great comment on mine, so true and insightful.

    • Peter Geekie profile image
      Author

      Peter Geekie 3 years ago from Sittingbourne

      Dear Lauranimal,

      Thanks for your comments, in an ideal world nothing would die or suffer pain but I have to accept I am an omnivore and I like the taste of meat. Having said that my wife and I have spent the last two decades working to ensure that animals that die for our food are treated and slaughtered in a humane and compassionate way. Vegans are not annoying I applaud their choice but make sure you take the correct mineral and vitamin supplements.

      kind regards Peter

    • profile image

      Sand 22 months ago

      How long can you keep jellied eels in the fridge

    • Peter Geekie profile image
      Author

      Peter Geekie 22 months ago from Sittingbourne

      Dear Sand,

      There are no preservatives natural or otherwise so I would suggest they are eaten within 48 hours. Some commercial grades do have preservatives added and the eat by date will be shown on the packaging.

      Proper jellied eels were intended to be caught fresh, killed, cooked and eaten immediately.

      The dipping sauce is OK in the fridge for a few months.

      kind regards Peter

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