Eels may not appeal to you visually as they do look rather like black snakes, but they are nutritious, healthy, and taste very good – and you don’t have to take my word for that! I love them and I didn’t have to acquire a taste for them. I probably ate quite a few of the plastic cupfuls of jellied eels before I realized what I was eating. My grandfather adored them and that was good enough for me. They are a meaty fishy thing as far as texture goes, but as they were in a jelly, they were also slippery.
London’s East End is famous for its pie, mash and liquor, and its jellies or stewed eels. The working classes were eating them heartily in the 1800s and the tradition continues today. Tourists and locals alike can be found in the pie shops trying out the local ‘delicacies’ if you can call mashed potatoes and a meat pie covered in pea sauce which may have been made with the water leftover from cooking the eels.
Eels are good for you as they contain Omega-6 fatty acids, and so have all the benefits of other oily fish such as mackerel and salmon. They contain the minerals calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, sodium, selenium (the feel good mineral as I like to think of it), manganese, zinc and iron. As for minerals they are a very good source of vitamins A and B12 and also a very good source of protein. They contain no carbohydrates, but have 18 amino acids and vitamins A, C, E (in the form of Alpha-Tocopherol) k, The B-complex vitamins, B1, B2, B3, B6, folate, B5, B12 and choline. This means that they are heart healthy, protect the central nervous system, help vision, promote hair growth and help rejuvenate the skin, and of course there’s selenium, good for the brain and a mood enhancer.
This year, the price of eels and elvers (baby eels) has sky-rocketed, partly because the populations in the Thames have decreased, and partly because people have woken up to the fact that eels are healthy and tasty too. In April 2012, American fishermen in Portland, Maine, were saying that a pound of eels could fetch more than $2,000. The season for elvers is short, being from February to May.
I will never forget the first time I saw these small, transparent, wriggling creatures crawling over the prawns and fish in Swansea market. I got over it though and ate them when we got home. You can still buy them there with the fresh cockles and laverbread (cooked seaweed). Jellied eels can be prepared at home, they are boiled in water and spices and the water is allowed to cool and then it becomes jelly as the eel is fatty, as I mentioned above. You can eat them hot or cold, and if you are in the East End of London, they will be served in a bowl, and you will be given them already chopped up as you traditionally eat them with a fork and spoon – no knife.