Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The eels

The power of good food writing is funny. I do not eat meat. But I could not help but salivate when I read James Prosek's essay in the May issue of Saveur about wild eels. Just a little bit. The essay explores the unheralded eel as classic American cuisine. Prosek explains that these slippery, wild water creatures spawn in the mysterious Sargasso Sea in the Caribbean, and then migrate to freshwater up and down the Atlantic coast. This part of the essay in particular, describing Prosek’s early eel-catching forays in southern Connecticut, made me curious about eating eel.

“Joe skinned the eels we caught, slicing around their heads and pulling the skin back like a sock from a foot. Then he cut the grayish blue meat into chunks, leaving the spine in the center, dusted it with garlic salt, and grilled it over charcoal. The eels’ copious fat dripped into the flames, causing them to jump and char the meat. We ate each chunk like corn on the cob, chewing around the spine; the meat was dense but delicate, with a flavor like a cross between seafood and meat.”

Maybe it’s not so much the eels that I’m interested in, but the experience he describes in cooking them. I can’t catch a wild tofu brick, skin it and roast it over an open flame, its fat stoking the fire. I probably could not even stir up a bundle of vegetables in the wild without committing larceny. It’s not like asparagus or carrots are growing wild in the Cascade Mountains (maybe they are, but I would not be able to spot them).

If you’re in the mood to try eels, contact Delaware Delicacies Smoke House in Hancock, New York. Maybe they can send you some. Or, depending on where you live, strap on a pair of leather gloves, wade out into your local freshwater headway late at night and try to grab some eels. If it were me, I'd sprinkle on some oregano. But definitely don’t forget the charcoal and garlic salt.

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