04 Sep How to Cook Lough Neagh Eels
Guest blog by Cathy Chauhan of the Lough Neagh Fisherman’s Co-Operative
The European Eel, as the name suggests, is a fish species found throughout the continent of Europe. Depending on the region where the eel is fished, there is a tradition and way to cook this fantastically flavoured fish.
For example, ‘Paling in’t groen’ (eels in green) is the traditional Flemish dish, which is an eel stew with fresh herbs. In France, they are often eaten in a freshwater fish stew called Matelote. In Northern Europe, such as Germany and Holland, eel is hot smoked. Closer to home, Jellied Eels are a delicacy in East End of London.
However, one of the simplest yet tastiest way to eat Lough Neagh eels, is the method of traditional cook around the shores of Lough Neagh. Locally these are called Eel Suppers and you will find them happening in local restaurants and pubs around the shores of the lough, particularly at Halloween, when the brown eel fishing season is coming to an end.
The eel that grows and feeds in Lough Neagh, are revered for their texture and flavour. Indeed, this is the reason for the accolade of PGI which was awarded to Lough Neagh Eels in 2011, recognising the heritage, tradition and authenticity of what are regarded as the best quality eels in Europe. The eels are prepared by removing the guts, skin and head. After washing and drying, the eels are cut into small sections, including the bone, of approximately 7 to 8cm. The griddle or pan should be heated to a medium/hot temperature of approx. 160 oC. Oil is not required as the eel produces a substantial amount of oil during cooking, however you can rub the tails of the fish over the pan before cooking the cuts, as this gives a light oiling to prevent the eel from sticking to the pan. Also a fine sprinkle of salt on the pan before cooking helps to prevent sticking.
Carefully place the eel cuts onto the pan. It is good to cook the first side for up to 30 mins, depending on cut size, to get a beautiful brown, crispy ‘skin’. Be patient and do not touch until it is ready to be turned. Turn and cook the second side for 20 mins. Cook for a further 20 mins, turning the eel onto its shorter sides to ensure that the flesh is well cooked throughout. Most people associate fish with a short cook time and indeed, the cooking of eel can be sped up by removing the bone. However, the long cook method described above is well worth the wait!
The bones make it an ideal finger food as the cuts are easy to hold using the bone. You know when your eel is cooked properly as it is brown and crispy all over and the flesh inside is fluffy and white. It is ate traditionally with soda bread and onions and is often complimented with salad and potato salad and between 4 and 8 cuts would be the average portion size for an adult. It is a very filling fish, due to the naturally high fat content, so a small amount can go a long way.
People often ask, what do Lough Neagh Eels taste like? My answer is always, it’s unique, no other fish tastes like it ….. So go ahead and try it, you’ll be hooked!