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
- 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.
- 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.
- Add garlic and sauté for a minute.
- Add tomatoes, basil, season lightly with salt & pepper, and bring pan’s contents to the boil before reducing to a simmer.
- After sauce has simmered for 15 minutes, heat the remaining oil in a large frying pan over med-high heat.
- 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.
- Carefully remove the eel and place it in the tomato sauce. Season lightly with salt & pepper.
- 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.
- Increase the heat to high, bring the sauce to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for another 15 minutes.
- Taste and adjust seasoning, if needed, one last time.
- 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 …
A 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 …
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