Eel in the Style of Le Marche — Anguille alla Marchigiana

Our ship came in! This morning, I made what has become a daily call to the Italian market and learned that eels had been delivered late yesterday afternoon. I called a friend and within an hour, we were standing in front of the fish counter, watching the fishmonger net today’s entrée. Not but a few hours later, here I sit blogging about the dinner. Not too shabby, well, unless you happen to be an eel.

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Throughout much of Italy, eel is a dish served traditionally around the holidays but is most commonly prepared in the southern portions of the country, with Naples famous for its eel. Very often one of the fishes served during Christmas Eve’s Feast of the 7 Fishes, eel is considered to be good luck for those who eat it. This is a very old custom dating back to the days when people believed snakes to be evil because of their role in the story of Adam & Eve. Because it so closely resembles a serpent, by eating eel one was symbolically triumphing over the devil and good fortune was sure to follow. I don’t know if that’s true but I’m buying a few lottery tickets, just in case.

In the old two-flat, I can’t say that eating eel was a tradition at all. In fact, I only remember seeing it one time back then. I must have been no more than 5 years old because I could barely see over the edge of the sink. Even though “barely,” I did manage to get a glimpse of a sink full of the slimy devils. Needless to say, it was a sight that left a lasting impression. Speaking with Zia, that is probably the last time eel was prepared there. So, today’s post wasn’t just a recipe. It was yet another memory test for my long-suffering Zia. I must say, though, having just finished a delicious dinner, Zia came through again. The eel flesh not only remained intact, it’s flavor wasn’t overcome by the tomatoes and, in fact, the sauce had a mild seafood taste throughout. Now I just have to figure out a way to get some eel over to Michigan so she, too, can enjoy the fruits of her memory.

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As she suggested, I prepared the anguille like we do much of our seafood, in a simple tomato sauce. In fact, this marinara is almost bland for there are no strong herbs or flavors present. Eel has a mild fish flavor and using something like organo or marjoram would definitely overpower it, leaving a tomato sauce devoid of any taste of seafood. We agreed that the eel might disintegrate if allowed to cook entirely in the sauce, so it was briefly pan-fried before being added it to the tomatoes.  Beyond that, the only change I brought to the recipe was with the basil. My family always tore by hand or chopped fresh basil before adding it to a sauce. Not long ago, I watched as Lidia added an entire stem of basil to her sauce and fished it out before serving. Well, if it’s good enough for Lidia, it is certainly good enough for me. If you, however,  don’t feel like adding a stem of fresh basil, then tear or chop away.

Oh! I should warn tell you one more thing about today’s protein. These eel are alive when purchased. You can bring them home and “take care of them” yourself or you can let your fishmonger do it for you. Um. No question. Let your fishmonger kill, gut, trim, and even chop the eel to your specifications. If you’re considering taking on any of the duties I’ve just mentioned, let me tell you that the term “slippery as an eel” is far more fact than fiction. I chose to chop the eel myself and it was a mistake, one that I’ll never repeat.

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Anguille alla Marchigiana Recipe

Ingredients

  • 3 lbs. eel, cleaned with head & tail removed, chopped in 2 – 3 inch pieces.
  • 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 large sweet onion, sliced thin
  • 1 clove garlic, minced or grated
  • 4 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped, divided
  • 1 large can (28.5 oz) tomatoes
  • 1 stem fresh basil
  • 1 cup white wine
  • salt & pepper
  • thickly sliced, toasted Italian bread, for serving.

Directions

  1. In a large sauce pan, heat 2 tbsp of olive oil over med-high heat. Add onion and sauté for about 3 minutes before adding 3 tbsp of the chopped parsley. Continue to sauté until the onion is translucent, about 5 more minutes.
  2. Add garlic and sauté for a minute.
  3. Add tomatoes, basil, season lightly with salt & pepper, and bring pan’s contents to the boil before reducing to a simmer.
  4. After sauce has simmered for 15 minutes, heat the remaining oil in a large frying pan over med-high heat.
  5. Once the oil is hot, add the pieces of eel and sauté for about 7 minutes, being careful to insure that the pieces are evenly cooked.
  6. Carefully remove the eel and place it in the tomato sauce. Season lightly with salt & pepper.
  7. Use the white wine to deglaze the frying pan. Continue to cook the wine until it is reduced by half. Add the wine reduction to the tomato sauce and carefully stir the pan’s contents.
  8. Increase the heat to high, bring the sauce to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for another 15 minutes.
  9. Taste and adjust seasoning, if needed, one last time.
  10. To serve, set a piece of toasted bread on each plate and place eel pieces on top, followed by a generous amount of sauce. Garnish each serving with some of the remaining chopped parsley.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Calamari SaladA little over a year ago, I gave an account of how the Feast of the 7 Fishes came about. It was part of the post in which I shared Mom’s recipe for a Calamari Salad. Follow this recipe’s guidelines and you’ll have perfectly prepared calamari, not rubber bands. That post also included a round-up of 11 additional seafood recipes for anyone needing help with gathering 7 seafood dishes for the Feast. You can see it all by simply clicking HERE.

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What’s this? You’re still a fish short?

Here’s a round-up of this past year’s seafood posts.

So, combining both posts, you now have 18 recipes from which to choose dishes for your Feast of 7 Fishes. Still having trouble? Try this: start your meal with Mom’s Calamari Salad. Next serve a bowl brimming with Brodetto. See? You’ve got 6 Fishes out-of-the-way already. Now, finish your meal with a bang: Branzino al Cartoccio. That’s 7 Fishes and you haven’t even broken a sweat.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Mom’s Brodo

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137 thoughts on “Eel in the Style of Le Marche — Anguille alla Marchigiana

    • Lucky you! I almost had the same experience, My eel were netted earlier today, right before my eyes, although your seat by the sea is probably a tad better than my seat on the sofa next to Max. Well, it probably smells fresher, in any event. :)
      Have a great day, Celi!

  1. I’ve never had eel in Italy and I’ve never had it in tomato sauce. Eel is caught locally here, but we mostly eat it smoked. (In fact, I recently made a risotto with smoked eel and celeriac that was delicious, post to follow.) Your recipe looks exactly like what I would do if someone asked me to prepare eel Italian style with tomatoes :) I had just never thought of this myself, so thanks for sharing! Definitely making this. You served it with the bones and skin, right?

    • Thanks, Stefan. Yes, the skin was left on and the bones weren’t much of a problem at all, much to my surprise. I expected far worse.I thought the pan frying might crisp the skin a bit but it really didn’t. Any crispiness was quickly obliterated by the tomato sauce. As a result, the skin was edible but I didn’t particularly like its texture. Luckily, once cooked it slides right off the flesh.
      I know that in Naples, they’ll often fry eel in a couple inches of hot oil. I believe they coat it with seasoned flour first. I considered trying it but, really, how much eel can one person eat in one day? Maybe next year I’ll revisit anguille and fry it but for now, I’m moving on. I’ve got baccalà to get ready for Christmas Eve. :)
      I do hope you try this recipe and come back to tell me whether you like it and what changes, if any, you made. Good luck!

      • I will definitely try it and I don’t think I will change a whole lot. Perhaps I will remove the skin and bones before serving.
        I think browning the skin and deglazing with white wine is to add flavor to the sauce, not to crisp up the skin because as you say the crispness won’t last in the tomato sauce.

  2. I remember my father catching eels and having all the slippery problems you describe, but I’ve never been brave enough to try cooking them myself! Maybe one day…. I’m looking forward to the brodo, though!

    • Oh, I know what you mean. As I watched him kill the eel, and then the “aftermath.” I began to wonder if this was worth it. But then I thought of how surprised Zia would be to hear that I actually was cooking up a batch of anguille and I had to continue on. As it turned out, I will probably make these again next year. They were surprisingly tasty and would have been a snap to prepare had I permitted the fishmonger to chop them for me. For a while in my kitchen, it was like watching a comedy routine with me unable get a grip on the darn things! :)
      My Market has fresh, uncured black olives now. Some looked quite bruised and I didn’t have the time to search for less blemished ones to cure. I may go back there when I’ve more time and, if I do, I hope you won’t mind my asking you about salt brining. I’ve read that salt brining is the only way to cure black olives — and that’s fine with me. I really like the salty black olives. :)

      • How lovely that you can buy fresh black olives! I’ve been experimenting with different ways of curing them over the last few years and the method I used this year has definitely been the best. I made a slit in each olive with a small sharp knife and then mixed all the olives in a bowl with a lot of coarse-grain sea salt. I covered the bowl and checked the olives every couple of days to drain off the liquid at the bottom of the bowl. After two weeks I tasted an olive – if it doesn’t taste bitter they’re cured. If it’s still bitter, leave for a few more days. Then I soaked them in spring water until they plumped up again and stored them in brine – enough salt dissolved in water so that a raw egg will float in it – until we wanted to eat them, with a few slices of lemon. Then I drain the olives and coat them in olive oil. They’re delicious. You can also add herbs at any stage in the process, but I wanted to see what the real olive taste was like. I’m looking forward to hearing how you get on!

        • Thank you so much for this. I almost bought black olives when I was in the market 2 days ago but I was fixated on getting the anguille and really didn’t have time to sort through the bins for the best looking olives. Now that I know what to do, I’ll pick some up next week and give it a try. Again, thank you! I will definitely let you know how things go.

  3. Oh I envy you those eels! And I also applaud your decision to chop the eel yourself, even if you will Never. Do. It. Again. Any chance you’d post some kitchen carnage photos?

    • Oh, Susan, I guess you had to be here to see just how impossible your request is. To be fair, I had intended to shoot a video and take jpegs from a few frames. That was my intention, anyway, until I got the eel out of the bag and onto the cutting board. All thoughts of starting a camera quickly vanished as I began to try to get a good grip on that slippery thing. This was not the time to earn I had no more rubber gloves. I chopped it into 10 pieces and each cut took me about 5 minutes because the entire battle lasted 45 minutes. When I was finished – and I must say I was a bit proud of myself – I looked to my left and there was the camera on its tripod, just waiting for me to push start. I was so intent on chopping that thing I never even thought of the camera. :)
      Thank you for visiting and taking the time to leave a comment. I’ll try to do better next time.

  4. I remember some time ago when the kids were little we were crabbing off the little bridge across from the HS and my DH caught an eel in the crab net…OMGosh you should have seen the kids, they were going wild, some Spanish guy came over and asked if he could take it and we gave it to him…last CHRISTmas season I was in NYC seeing the tree and the sights and my encounter with eel was on sushi, DELICIOUS!!! Lidia has a restaurant in NYC called Becco, we have eaten there, it was good but I found the dishes to be highly salted, we had to drink a ton of water all night! If you are ever in the NYC area please let me know we would love to be tour guides…

    • That’s a very kind offer, Maria, thank you. WHen I make it to NYC, I would love to meet with you. I’m aware of Lidia’s restaurant, though I’ve never been. Overly salted food makes me wonder if I ever will. It’s nice to be able to say, “I’ve been to such and such place” but I’d rather say, “The food was great and such and such place.”
      I can identify with your kids. As you’ve read here, there were, shall we say, some rather odd food choices in our kitchens when I was growing up. We were told not to touch this or to stay out of the basement, for fear we might meet Sunday’s dinner and name it. :)

  5. Bonjourno John, My file is too big to send to you as an email but I took a video of a guy here at the Aberdeen Fish Market in Hong Kong on a sampan boat butchering a live eel in his underwear none less. This event has left me a little scarred and I might not be able to enjoy eel for some time. However, I like the tomato sauce on your eel dish and it almost helps me forget all about the old man in his whitie tighties. Take Care, BAM

    • Buona Sera, BAM! I know what you mean, BAM. It wasn’t the most pleasant part of my day yesterday, to say the least. This is a good sauce, BAM, to be sure, but it’s no miracle cure. You may need counseling to rid yourself of those visions of the man in his whitie tighties. :)
      Have a great week!

  6. Your simple sauce and eel looks divine! Of course it doesn’t look simple. It looks gorgeous!! I remember eel on Christmas Eve. I am a lot like you for Christmas Eve as I try to incorporate at least one seafood for the meal. I love the stories you have of your life. They are beautiful. Standing and waiting for eel should be exciting! You make us readers feel as if we are there with you salivating for the eel to arrive! Thank you for that :)

    Thank you for the gentle reminder of the eel being alive. I never remembered that. Good to know. I bet your Christmas Eve is going to be glorious. Do you have a menu prepared yet? Are you sharing it? We hope so :)

    • Again, Judy, thank you for being so gracious in your compliments. It just wouldn’t b Christmas Eve if I were to be dining on some sort of meat dish. It goes against the grain. Christmas Eve will be rather quiet. This year I’ve got some baccalà that I’m planning to cook during the afternoon. I’ll be going to a Cousin’s home to spend Christmas day with a part of my family that lives out here now. We were together last year and I’m looking forward to another good time.
      I have to admit that it the fishmonger would not have killed and gutted the eels for me, I would not have been able to do it. I’ve grown soft in my old age and do not want to take a chance that my blow wouldn’t be swift enough, causing the creature undue pain. As it was, they were far too slippery for me to even hold onto, let alone try to clean them.
      How will you be spending Christmas?

  7. Your dishes continue to amaze me. I’m thrilled to be learning authentic Italian dishes, but I love the dose of history and learning about your life and traditions! I’ve only had eel in sushi. I need to find someone to make THIS for me!

    • Thank you, Tanya for leaving such nice compliments. I, too, am a fan of unagi. In fact, someone suggested I try a sushi restaurant if I continued to have trouble finding eel. They have it in stock all of the time and maybe they could point me to a supplier. This time of year, you may find anguilla on the menu of “real” Italian restaurants. (Sorry, Olive Garden.) Look for restaurants featuring Neapolitan or Sicilian cuisine to increase your odds of finding it. Otherwise, it may be time for you broaden your social circle to include an Italian fishmonger or two. :)

    • It is surprisingly good, ZBD, not nearly as “fishy” as I thought it might be. All’s well here and hope you can say the same. It’s good to see you around again. Happy holidays to your and yours!

  8. Call me a coward, but I could never handle a live eel. It reminds me of snakes which I am scared stiff of. Your dish looks delicious, not sure I could eat it though as my imagination would become very active with each bite.

    • I don’t blame you at all, Norma. We all have our likes and dislikes. Had I not seen my family eat them so many years ago, I doubt if I would want to try them now. I was “introduced” to a few unusual foods back then and I’m glad they did. Don’t worry. Next week’s recipe will be much more to your liking — I hope. ;)

        • You almost got me, MD. I saw the film and while I was waiting for Wikipedia to come up, I was thinking it may be a good movie to download. I glanced at the movie poster,saw a child, and was thinking the Little Drummer Boy. … And then I read the Wikipedia synopsis. Are you kidding me? I’m going to have to watch The Sound of Music 3 times this weekend to get some of those images out of my mind. Yesterday’s foray into eel territory was a walk in the park comparatively.
          In any event, thanks for dropping by and commenting … I think. :)

  9. Looks and sounds fabulous, John. I like eel but we don’t get it fresh in DFW so I don’t fix eel. Like Stephen, I never would have thought about the combination of eel and tomatoes but it makes perfect sense.

    • Thank you, Richard. This is the first of seen live eel since that day 50+ years ago. While speaking with Zia, I mentioned the Neapolitan method of frying eel portions. She’d never heard of that and only knew of cooking it like I did here. People apparently learn one method of cooking it and stick with it to the end. :)

  10. Oh yumm. I love fresh tomato sauce and it sounds like a perfect blend with the eel, which I have never had with tomato sauce. Although I love eel, typically I have had it with Asian preparations. This sounds like a great alternative.

    As for fish in MI, a good cooler with plenty of ice will get your eel there. I find myself transporting all the time as there are so many things you can’t find there.

    So, what else is on your holiday menu?

    • Thank you so much. I do travel with a cooler to Michigan. The problem here is that there will be no more eel when I next go home. I don’t travel in the dead of Winter so my next trip home will be in March.
      I’ll be spending Christmas Day with part of the Family that lives “out” here now. I’ve no idea of the menu but last year it was fantastic! Christmas Eve will be seafood. I’ve got some baccalà and will serving it with a frutti de mare pasta. There will be no Feast of the 7 Fishes this year. And if you listen closely, you can hear the oceans breathe a sigh of relief. :)

  11. This looks wonderful. Don’t remember where I saw it – some one was cutting up eel and threw a dishtowel over it to “trap it”, and used a sharp cleaver to whack it into pieces. Made quick work (I think actually is was wok) of it.

    • Well, David, I’d describe the scene at the market yesterday but it might upset a few of our blogging friends. I wasn’t too pleased to watch it nor was the friend I brought with me. Trying to butcher it at home was like a scene from an old comedy. After all is said and done, I would make this dish again, no doubt. I’ll, also, phone first and have it killed, cleaned, and butchered for me, ready for pick-up. Fool me once… :)

  12. To be polite, I have to say eel is on my “no, thank you” list, but you certainly make it look beautiful with the marinara. I did want to wish you a Merry Christmas — I am delighted to count you among my blogging friends and wish you all the best in the coming New Year.

    • I must admit, Judy, that I knew that eel would definitely hit the “Ew!” button for some people and I’m certainly not offended. We all have our likes and dislikes. I do appreciate your comments all the more, however, knowing how you feel about them. Thank you for that and for the kind sentiments you just expressed. I feel fortunate to have become a part of this community, one which would not be the same without you. I hope you and all whom you hold dear have a wonderful holiday season.

  13. Fabulous eel recipe. The Vendee, where I live, is famous for eels as a large part of the Vendee is made up of Marais ( marsh). As I’m the only one in the house that likes eels, I only get to eat them in the little bistros on the bridges over the canals in the Marais. I can live with that.

    • Thanks, Roger. When the fishmonger told me last Summer that he’d have eels, I knew that I’d have to prepare them. It was more, curiosity, though, than craving. Although I did enjoy them, I can do very well dining on eel once yearly. There are far too many other fish in the fish market to obsess about eels. ;)

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  18. You’re a courageous man but I have to tell you, you had me screaming & running out of the room. My father used to fish at night for eel & toss them into a burlap bag for “fixing up” later while I’d have nightmares. That said, I like eel but I could never handle any part of one until it was on my plate. This looks very good. I’ve never had it in sauce & I can understand why you would chose a mild sauce for this dish.

    • Thanks, Diane, I can definitely understand your views. It’s not as if I was totally at ease watching the guy kill and clean the eel, even though I’ve done more than my fair share of cleaning fowl and dressing rabbits when I was young. Next time I’ll pre-order it and only worry about cooking and serving it. :)

  19. I’ve never had eel. I know it’s huge in Italy and France (most of Europe, I believe), but it’s not often found in US fish markets, and it’s one of those things I rarely see on restaurant menus (I’ve never seen it on an Italian one, although I have several times in French restaurants). I didn’t actually know they were sold alive – thanks for the tip! I’d definitely let my fish monger dispatch and clean the little devil. This is definitely something I want to try sometime because I’ve heard so many wonderful things about it. I believe in some of the Northern European countries they enjoy it pickled, which sounds interesting. But I’ll eat anything in a marina sauce! My fave way to enjoy almost any food. Really interesting post and recipe — thank you.

    • Thanks, John. Interestingly enough, these eels came from Boston, of all places. Well, that’s what the monger told me. If that’s true, I’m guessing eels may be more readily available on the East Coast, especially this time of the year.
      Smart move to let the pro do the cleaning et al. Even dead, it was the squirmiest thing I’ve ever tried to hold onto. Funny at first, it soon became exasperating. Beyond that, though, it was a tasty dish and I bet it will taste even better next time without the 45 minute exercise in futility. :)

  20. This is so much different than anything I’ve ever tried. Which makes me want to try it even more. Your dish is beautiful, John. This looks so good, and it sounds like maybe I could even pull it off…..if I had access to fresh fish. I simply have to get to Chicago, ASAP. For more than one reason. :) I’m so glad you shared this. Not only are you teaching me to make great Italian food, but you’re expanding my horizons too. I love that.

    • Thanks, Sarah. Your comments are always so positive and complimentary.
      If you’re coming to Chi-town for the eels, I think they’ll only be around for another week or so. Maybe they’ll keep some around for New Year’s but I’m not sure.
      Once you find them and the little devils are “taken care of,” this is really an easy dish to prepare. As you can well imagine, though, there is certainly an “Ew!” factor and some dinner guests may not be thrilled to hear that eels are the main course. On the other hand, all that means is more eel for the more adventurous seated at the table. Some gotta win, some gotta lose …

  21. Not only brilliant and handsome, but brave! John I cannot imagine (and believe me, I’ll waste no time trying) “dispatching” my own slippery eel! But because of you, we can all now say we know someone who’s not only been blessed by a wave of the Pope but has taken on the devil in his own sink! :) Bravo John Bartolini!

    • Thanks, Spree, but I’d hardly consider my actions to be at all brave. Comedic, ill-equipped, even foolhardy but certainly not brave. Had there been a witness present in my kitchen, s/he probably would have guessed that the eel was still alive since I was having such a hard time wrangling it. Thinking back to when I bought them, I have a far better appreciation for the skill of that fish monger. He had a little bit of trouble but certainly nothing like what I had — and the eels were alive when he was dealing with them. :)

  22. What a beautiful dish and so unique. I haven’t tried eel and can’t say that I’ve ever seen it at my local fish monger either. I’ll leave it to the professionals to prepare, perhaps one day I will have good fortune to try yours, John. What is the texture like? Similar to well cooked polipo? or is it more like a firm fish? You are rather brave to tackle the preparation yourself, John. I wonder how many times the slippery buggers flew out of your able hands, landing on the floor; I bet even Max ran away from it! Hehehe, that would be funny, for sure.
    I loved your Feast of Seven Fishes post, John — I’m not overly religious but I do appreciate these traditions.

    • Thank you, Eva. I wouldn’t associate anguilla’s taste with that of polipo. Anguilla has a mildly fishy taste but certainly not enough to be off-putting. I have to believe that flavor may increase of decrease depending upon the preparation. Unfortunately, the only other time I’ve had eel is at at sushi restaurant and it (unagi) is served grilled. It’s texture, too, is more like fish than polipo and it is a bit on the delicate side. I can definitely see where over-cooking it in a tomato sauce could cause it to fall apart. And aside from a thick spinal column, I didn’t have any problem with bones, which really surprised me.
      You must have had a secret camera in my kitchen yesterday, Eva. That darn thing was all over the place. Right out of the bag, it slipped out of my hand and was headed for the drain. Luckily I was able to get there first and held it while putting a “catch” n the drain opening. And it only got worse from there. Yes, it hit the floor a couple times and, yes, Max took off after the first sniff. As I said in the post, trying to chop it myself was a big mistake and I will never do that again. :)

  23. We used to catch them by accident while spinning for mackerel. We killed them the same way we did the mackerel. Stick a couple of fingers down the throat and break the neck. Quick and easy, if you have the stomach for it. Not so easy with the bigger ones though…

    • I don’t think I could kill them now by any method. As a boy I would have done it, no problem. but I no longer have “it” in me, I guess. These eels in the monger’s tank were all at least 18 inches (46 cm). I’m guessing they’d be two large for the finger approach. Once killed, were they used as food or trash? Would you toss them today or cook them?
      Thanks for dropping by and sharing your eel tale. I can’t believe you guys killed them that way. :)

  24. Definitely, very definitely, I would let the fishmonger do all of this for me. I have seen live eels and they are so slimy and slippery and wriggly – just totally out of control. I would be screaming if I had to deal with one xx

    • Where was ya when I needed ya, Charlie? My fight with that dead eel was a farce. It slipped and slid in every way possible. I’ll prepare eel again but I’ll never go through that again. I’ll leave the butchering to the professionals. :)

    • Hey, Jake. I’m here to tell you that the scene is completely false. There is no way you can hold an eel in your bare hand and swing it at all, let alone hit it on a table/counter. Talk about greased lightning! The thing was dead and it took me 45 mintes to cut it onto 10 pieces, with much of the time spent just trying to get hold of it on the cutting board. I’ll never attempt that again, though I will prepare eel again. :)

    • Thanks, Greg. It was a real treat. I couldn’t believe it when that fishmonger said they would have eels for the holidays. Now I have to ask him if they’ve anything special planned for Easter. ;)

  25. I do not look pretty this moment, being absolutely deep peagreen with envy! Mention eel to me and I’m in 7th heaven – at a pinch have even had to prove the passion by taking life out of the poor squirming dears :) ! I have never had them in tomato sauce: so where is the next eel to try? N European wise the jellied kind [no, no, not as strong as what you get in Brit pubs: sorry!] where the jelly is almost the star, comes first and smoked second and ‘stewed’ third, but, oh, I’ll try it any way! Am working awfully hard at becoming a genie and dropping onto your dinner table!!

    • Eha, you crack me up! You’d make quite an entrance, a deep peagreen genie suddenly appearing at my Christmas Eve dinner table. My dinner guests would be thrilled to meet you, well, those that didn’t have a heart attack or bolt for the door as you materialized. :)
      I’m learning that there are far more ways than one to cook an eel, although I doubt I’ll ever try to make them for myself. Here, eel is only available around the holidays and I’ve had my share for this year. When you “pop in,” maybe you could bring a few more eel and a recipe or two? Oh, forget the recipe(s). You can just furnish us with a chef once you get comfortable. :)
      Thanks for leaving such great comment, as always!

      • Oh sheesh, I better begin to be more polite and careful with my comments: you are the third person in a month to say ‘I crack’ them ‘up’! – perhaps, just perhaps that is not quite a positive comment [tho' I do accept yours as 'true blue' [Oz slang for real]]! OK, should I get there, with an eel or two, I’ll cook, you provide the vino! And should you not post ere Yule, my very warmest wishes to you and your family for a wonderful Xmas and a healthy, happy New Year!

        • Don’t you dare change one bit! I’m the one that has to be careful tossing out idioms, thinking everyone knows their meaning. Here, “you crack me up” means that you make me laugh. It’s a good thing.
          Thank you for the holiday wishes. May you and all whom you hold dear, Eha, have a a most merry Holiday Season. I’ll set a place for you at the table just in case you get that genie thing worked out. :)

  26. This looks delicious :) The G.O. and I were discussing the merits of eel just a few days ago.. me for, having eaten it out of the river as a kid, and him against…. for the same reason. I think though I’ll have to throw over the cooking of it to my Dad. I’m not fond of eels up-front & personal. When I was young & lived in the country shared an apartment with a woman who’s boyfriend was a keen fisherman. Very early one Sunday morning I got a terible shock to find a huge eel curled up on a dinner plate in the fridge, a foot away from my nose. Once I recovered, the fisherman-boyfriend baked it into a tasty dinner ;)

    • Now, that’s a little too up close and personal, for my tastes. As it was, I had a devil of a time chopping mine into manageable chunks. It was like a silent slapstick routine, with eel, dead mind you, still managing to slither away. I say silent because my parrot was watching from the next room. I never swear around her because I don’t want a foul-mouthed parrot. Believe me, though, I was thinking every expletive known to Man!
      I’m with you, though. I could never kill or clean one. That is just one bridge too far. Thank you for sharing a few of your eel-y memories with us, EllaDee. If you ever visit, I’ll be sure to keep my eel out of sight in the vegetable crisper, just for you.

  27. I remember having a discussion with you sometime in the past about ell. I believe at the time you didn’t have a place to buy them fresh. I have had the experience of keeping live ells in my refrigerator for a day before they met their untimely end for a Christmas eve dish. They were part of the seven fish Christmas eve celebration dinner…roasted with potatoes and bay leaves. Actually, I would say “been there, done that, and don’t care to do it again”. LOL.

    • If I remember correctly, Karen, didn’t you keep your eels in one of the crispers in your refrigerator? I admire you for that and for taking on the “business” of preparing them for cooking. I don’t know how you did it and I applaud you for it. I will definitely prepare these again but I will not attempt to kill, clean, or chop them. If I could find eel wrapped in cellophane like chicken, I’d be one happy Bartolini! :)
      In case we don’t “meet” again beforehand, Karen, wishing you, your Husband, and all whom you hold dear, a very Merry Christmas and wonderful New Year.

      • Yes John, you have a great memory…the ells did stay in my crisper until they met there maker. And I totally agree about wishing they could be found all prepped nicely for us. Until then…I’ll cook more traditional fish courses for Christmas eve. I wish you the happiest of Christmas celebrations with your family, as well.

  28. John, this post speaks so much home to me, really. I can smell all the flavors as it is the way we cook eel most of the time too (when we can find one).
    As of package to Zia, go back to fishmonger, and ask them to ship it to Zia (if they still have eel), they may have this service, and they definitely know how to ship fish. Sometimes I order fresh fish from Seattle’s Pike Place Market, and it comes perfect. If such service is not available through your fishmonger, still worth asking how to ship it. Foam container and ice packs would help even though the weather up north in the next few days should be cold. Good luck! Send my love to Zia! :)

    • I tell you, Marina, it amazes me how similar many of our dishes are. Zia will be pleased, again, to hear that you cook eel the same was as we do.
      Thanks for the suggestions for getting some eel to her. I will check with my fish monger but I doubt that they have the means to ship anything, let alone fish. It sure would be great if they did but having things shipped to her is something I’ve not thought of. I’ll keep it in mind for future reference. As it is, I froze a nice serving of my eel dinner and will bring it to her my next visit. She’ll be thrilled and I’ll find out if I followed the family recipe correctly. :)

  29. I can just picture you as a little boy watching those eels in the kitchen sink. I think I’m better suited to enjoy some of these creatures already cooked and served to me, but I’m not too good at handling them myself. They just are too “slippery” and I get caught up in the appearance more than the promise of the taste! I’m fascinated with the way we all have such different orientations to eating fish. Here I have never lived more than an hour from the coast, but because my parents didn’t eat much fish, I have had to learn to enjoy it on my own. I have one child who eats all fish and loves sushi, and another who won’t even eat tuna from a can! I’m a little ambivalent with eel, I admit, but I think prepared correctly I’d enjoy it very much! Now “doing it in” on my own will never be an option! :-)

    • Oh, how they fascinated me, Debra, until I was shooed away. I’m sure they were afraid I’d name them. :)
      I had such a hard time just chopping the thing into segments, I cannot imagine ever trying to kill and clean one. As it is, next time I’ll just have the fish monger do all he can. Heck! If he has a pot back there, he can cook it for me, too!
      You’re right about how each of us react differently towards fish. I’ve 2 siblings and they differ greatly in their tastes. I, on the other hand, love ‘em all — both fish and siblings. :)
      In case I don’t have another chance, here’s wishing you and yours, Debra, a Merry Christmas and wonderful things in the New Year.

  30. Oh, my gosh.. were you really, did you really have to “dispatch” the poor fella’? I was a bit on the fence about trying eel for the first time.. I was totally getting into your recipe.. starting to relax and think it would be quite lovely, imagining the tearing of basil.. but then, yikes!! They’re alive? I’m so squeamish, I don’t think I could hurt the poor guy. On the other hand, give me an eel, all ready to go, packaged up, and I wouldn’t think twice about eating him:) Excellent and exotic recipe today, John!!

    • Thanks, Barb, and not to worry, I couldn’t do it. When I first learned that they would have eel at Christmas, I’d no problem with the idea of buying live eel and “dispatching” them myself. What’s the problem? Well, as time passed and the day grew closer, I began to have second thoughts. When I called and learned that the eels were “in,” the first words out of my mouth — after “Thanks!”, of course — were “You do kill and clean them, don’t you?” I just couldn’t do it, Barb, and having seen him do it, I’m so glad I didn’t try. Believe me, I had a hard enough time just trying to chop it into pieces. As I just wrote in response to another commenter, like you I’d prefer to find it wrapped in cellophane, ready to go.
      In case I don’t get the chance later, here’s wishing you and your family, Barb, a wonderful Christmas and every happiness in 2013.

  31. I would NEVER even dream of killing, skinning, gutting an eel!!!! No warning needed here! :) I saw someone try to do it on a cooking show one day and it was actually quite hilarious. But even then I thought – NEVER! The only eel I have ever had was unagi or smoked eel, which I love. I would love to try this recipe just to be able to taste eel in it pure form and because it looks so darn good!!!!

    • Having watched the process, MJ, next year I’ll phone ahead and just pick it up at the counter. Yikes! I had such a hard time just grabbing hold of it to chop it into pieces that it was turning into a farce. The thing writhed so much that you would have sworn it alive! It almost went down the garbage disposal, flipped onto the floor a few times, and, well, just would NOT cooperate! Deal with a live one? Not on your life!
      Thanks for commenting, MJ, and here’s wishing you and yours a Merry Christmas and wonderful New Year!

  32. I’ve never even seen live eels here, so seeing these large eel “steaks” is so interesting. And they sound delicious with the light tomato sauce. Can’t imagine dispatching one myself, though. ;) Sorry to be so late to commenting…once again your post didn’t show up for me this week. I even went back and looked through email and reader and couldn’t find it. Will now re-follow and resubscribe. Hope you have a lovely Christmas, John!

    • Sorry, Betsy, that you’re still having trouble getting notification of my fabulous, mustn’t be missed, posts. :) I hope you’ve resolved it. Let me know if it continues and I’ll report the problem to Support and, if you don’t mind, I’ll use your blog as “proof” of the problem.
      I must admit that I was a bit shocked to see a tank full of eels at the market. It’s one thing to talk about them in the abstract, something totally different to see them there. I could not have “dispatched” them, despite what I may have thought earlier. They were tasty, though! Even so, I’ll leave the “preparation” to the professionals, thank you very much.
      I hope your Holidays are truly special, Betsy.

  33. Yikes….I would “never” kill and dress my own eels. My best friend lives in Prague and they have a Christmas tradition of keeping a giant live carp in the bathtub for a week before Christmas and then killing it for the Christmas meal. Her kids are still traumatized by the killing of their pet fish…haha! Best not to name the eels I suppose….

    • I couldn’t have killed one either and would have sought out a monger who would do it for me. And I’m so glad I didn’t attempt it, given my poor job of cutting it into pieces even though dead. And you’re right about naming dinner. We were kept away from anything live that was headed for the dinner table. The adults in the house knew what would happen if we got that close to the animal.
      Thanks for the visit and taking the time to leave a comment.

  34. Did I read that right that you took care of the eel yourself? Wow! Brave man. I don’t think I could have done that. I do absolutely LOVE eel though. It looks delicious how you’ve prepared it. I think it’s one I’m definitely going to have to try (besides I could use the good fortune!). I know the kids have enjoyed eel before too, so this one should be a hit. I will have the fish monger take care of the eel for me though. I’ll be thinking of you and Zia on Monday. We’ll be making fresh spaghetti with your carbonara sauce! Can’t wait! Have a very Merry Christmas John!

    • Kristy, there is no way I could have killed an eel No way on Earth! Aside from not having the “will” to do it, they were so slippery that I probably would have cut off a finger before I cut it at all. Seriously! If you’ve a Little Italy nearby, you may be able to get eel until about New Year’s. Outside of the holidays, though, I’m not so sure about their availability.
      I really am honored that your family will be dining on our carbonara, Kristy. That’s wonderful. I hope you, ChefDad, and the SousChefs have the most memorable of Christmases, Kristy, and every happiness in the New Year.

  35. What a gorgeous dish, John! I don’t think I’m brave enough to handle/eat eel. Not a huge fan of the rubbery texture. I do like calamari though…well, that’s most likely because it’s fried, ha! Hope you have a wonderful Christmas and happy New Year!!! x

    • Thank you, Caroline I think you’d be surprised by the eel’s texture. The skin wasn’t the best but it could easily be removed once cooked. The flesh, though, was like that of a delicate fish. Still, it isn;t the prettiest thing to prepare and certainly not the easiest. You’ve a well-rounded diet. I doubt that you’ll miss eel. :)
      Have a Merry Christmas and wonderful New Year, Caroline!

  36. Wow, eel! We never had eel at home and frankly I’ve only had it in sushi!! Which I do love! So once again, I’m dieing of jealousy over your Italian market but so happy for you AND that you share this recipe. I think Zia hit it on spot for flavoring. I’d like to stop by for a bite as I know I won’t be making it – dead or alive!! Happy holidays John!

    • I wonder if your Dad remembers eel being prepared, Linda? I only remember the one time and I was really young. They jury is still out as to whether eel will make a reappearance next Christmas. I did freeze a serving that I’ll bring to Zia on my next visit. She’ll get a treat and I’ll prevail upon her to critique my seasoning. I’m very lucky that we’re beyond the point where everything tastes good. She now offer criticisms because she knows I’m serious about getting the recipes right — and she’s only made me cry twice. ((laughing)).
      I hope you and yours have a wonderful Christmas and happiest of New Years, Linda!

  37. Talk about fresh fish!! I think I’m with you my friend…allow the monger to take care of the dirty deed so that we can enjoy the fish. Never had eel before myself, so I’ll have to see about remedying that now that I have your recipe.

    • Living near the East Coast, you’re closer to eel than you might think. The fishmonger said that these came from Boston, of all places. And to think, all I knew that came out of that town were beans. So, next time you’re heading to Maine for a lobster dinner, stop by Boston’s Little Italy for some eel for lunch. That is what you East Folk do isn’t it? Drive to Maine for lobster? We drive to Wisconsin for cheese in Summer and for Christmas trees in Winter. Just doesn’t seem fair.
      I hope you and Liz have the most memorable of holidays and every happiness in 2013.

    • You’re very welcome, Giovanna! You’re always teaching me something it is nice to return the favor. :)
      I hope you and your family have a Christmas filled with joy and may that joy remain with you throughout 2013.

  38. For some reason eel reminds me of “how to train your dragon” the book and the movie.
    I have never tried eel and I don’t think I will because I have never seen it here but I always love reading your posts for the information and the stories John :)

    • Thanks, Sawsan. This is one of the old family recipes that I knew few would have any chance of preparing. I can safely say that I’m probably the last of my family to make eel and will probably remain so. I must admit, though, it was far tastier than I had imagined and I will buy it again — next year. Once a year is enough. ;)

  39. Wow this looks amazing! I love eating eel, but not sure about the luck part… maybe I should go get myself some lottery tickets too. ;) Most eel I’ve eaten are prepared Japanese style, ie grilled with Japanese sauce, yours look really interesting and delicious! Hope to try it one day. Merry Christmas to you and your family, happy holidays!

    • Up until this dish, the only eel I’ve tasted is unagi at Sushi restaurants. I’ve enjoyed it, Jasline, but it’s a far cry from this preparation. I must say I really like this way of preparing it and will definietly do it again — just not during this holiday season. Once is enough. ;)
      Wishing you and everyone you cherish a wonderful Christmas and Happiest of New Years!

  40. Definitely sage advice — I can’t imagine trying to take care of a slippery eel that is alive myself!!!! Definitely a job for the fishmonger! How lovely that Zia continues to provide such inspiration for the meals that you share with us! I wish you both — and the rest of your family — a very Merry Christmas,

    • My Zia is my Encyclopedia. I’m trying to document my family’s recipes, some of which haven’t been prepared in decades. Eel is one of those dishes. Without her help, I would have had little or no idea of how to prepare them. The one thing she didn’t mention, however, was to have the fishmonger “take care of them.” If I could, next Christmas I would scream it from the rooftop lest someone think they could do it at home. Not!
      Happy Holidays to you and your beautiful family!

  41. Great photos and the back story, too, but having been the one to tag along to the market and witness the beheading (lol), I’ll pass…I still prefer to think like the kid I used to be and pretend hamburgers came from the freezer at the grocery store. Who knows. Maybe one day I’ll buck up and get a “feel” for eel on my dinner plate.

    • Well, you have at least a year to approve of eel on your plate. I’ll be going back to that market later this week but eel will not be on my shopping list. (Raw black olives will be, by the way.) I’ve prepared it, ate it, and enjoyed it. Next!

  42. I need to try Eel cooked like this John I’m sure I would like it – they only time I’ve eaten it is from a Pie and Mash style place in London where they have jellied eels – bluergh! Now I’m sure if you cooked this for me I’d wolf it down, and then wipe the plate clean with a piece of bread !
    Merry Christmas my friend !

    • I’ve heard of jellied eel but never seen anything like it around here. The only other way I know to prepare eel is to deep fry it. I thought I might try to fry it this year but decided against it. Maybe next year.
      The beauty of this dish is that the eel and sauce are served atop a thick piece of bread, the better to clean one’s plate!
      And a very Merry Christmas, to you, Claire, my friend, indeed!

  43. John-your dishes always look so elegant and well thought out. I love that! I definitely don’t do eel, but that sauce is so beautiful and I’m loving the basil in it. I make pasta with fresh basil and sesame oil and fresh tomatoes that I could drink, lol! I just love basil. Beautiful dish! Merry Christmas!!

    • Oh, I so agree with you about basil. During Summer, I buy it by the “bouquet” at the farmers market. It’s a huge bunch for no more than $5.00. And the ride home from the market, with the scent of basil filling the car, is just fantastic! Your sauce with sesame oil would definitely be drinkable! :)
      Thanks for leaving such a nice comment and I hope you had a fantastic Christmas.

    • I thoroughly understand. I certainly couldn’t “dispatch” an eel and had a hard enough time chopping it into useable pieces. Next time the fish monger will do it all for me. And that next time won’t be for some time! :)

  44. Fabulous – we had a little toast to you and Zia on Christmas Eve with my parents as we ate seafood (no eels though) and my father spoke of eels on Christmas Eve in Calabria. Fantastic recipe, if I ever come across whole eels will be giivng this a go. Hope it was a wonderful Christmas for you!

    • Zia should be returning any time now after spending Christmas at her Grandson’s home. She will enjoy hearing of your Christmas Eve toast. I certainly did and thank you for that honor. It sounds like you had a lovely Christmas with your Parents. I’m very happy for you, Tanya.
      Cooking eel for Christmas Eve was done more for the challenge than anything else. Zia couldn’t believe I did it. She’ll be even more surprised when I visit her next. I froze some for her. :)

  45. I love eel in all the incarnations I’ve managed to get my hands on. I’ve never seen an Italian recipe for eel though, so if I ever get my hands on some eels I’ll be trying this out! It looks delicious :)

    • I’m pretty much an eel novice. This is the only way I know how to cook it, though I’m aware that in Sicily it is sometimes floured and deep-fried. Maybe next Christmas Eve I’ll give that a try. :)
      Thanks for visiting and taking the time to leave a comment.

  46. Pingback: Eel in Tomato Sauce (Anguilla in Umido) | Stefan's Gourmet Blog

  47. This looks delicious – though I am sure we have no eel in Albuquerque. :-( And definitely no one to clean them. Yes, they look SO slippery….
    What a lovely recipe – I am glad the “long-suffering Zia” came through for your once more. Best – Shanna

    • Thanks, Shanna, and you’re probably right. Unless you’ve an “old school” Italian market, there will be no eels for you. Poor Zia. I think she’s beginning to hate the words. “Do you remember …” For today’s recipe, that question took us back over 50 years. Considering I have a hard time remembering yesterday’s lunch, I’ve really no right to expect her to remember the recipe for a dish last served that long ago. She comes through, though, every time. Gotta love her for that — and a whole lot more. :)

      • John – This makes me smile. Sweet Zia. Remembering fifty year old recipes – when the lot of us can’t remember if we had soup or a sandwich for lunch yesterday. She is a steal vault of recipes! I suppose that when we moe at the end of next year, I will promptly purchase as slick eel! ;-) – Shanna

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