What Does Eel Taste Like: Bland or Delicious?

Written by Luisa Davis on . Posted in food

You probably just sat on a couch watching TV, then you saw an eel on TV and no matter how much you tried, you couldn’t stop yourself from wondering how eel taste, especially when grilled.

Okay, maybe it didn’t happen like that. Maybe you were reading about eels or maybe you just found out that eels are eaten as a delicacy and you were fancinated by that discovery. That’s not what happened? Hmm, okay. I’ve never been good at guessing however I do know that you can’t stop thinking about the question: what does eel taste like, and soon enough you will find the answer to that question.

What Do Eels Taste Like? Time to find out!

Some persons will tell you to think about eels as aquatic snakes because they look very much like snakes. If you didn’t already know that they were eels, you would probably have thought eels were some sort of snake species that lived in water. No, I never thought of them as that but pretty much a good majority of kids just seeing an eel for the first time would think about something like that.

Eels are weird looking fishes, for starters, they sure do not look anything like a fish should, and to make things weirder for this fish, they have no pelvic fins and not all species have the pectoral fins too. They have slimy and elongated body with round piercing eyes along with sharp teeth. It is a ray-finned predator fish with over 600 species and this fish is capable of either swimming forward or backward.

There are freshwater eels and saltwater eels so they can be seen in most water bodies.

However, there’s one thing about this fish you are not going to like and it is that they are super expensive. One kilogram of eel meat could cost as much as a thousand dollars. It could cost considerably way lesser than that only if you live in a place where they aren’t considered a treasured delicacy. Japan, Korea, and London are only a few places with perhaps the most outrageous price tags for eels.

Eels were never actually expensive especially in London were it was once considered an ordinary dish many years ago but with time, they became expensive. Why? Eels are rare to catch, most eel species are nocturnal and so they are not easily caught and with the very high demand and few suppliers, economics tell us that the price tag on it is bound to be significantly higher.

So what does eel taste like?

The simple answer will be that eels taste good, these snake-like fishes actually do taste good and their high price tag is enough evidence. The exact taste of eels however, depend on the method of cooking. Just as broiled beef taste different from fried beef so does smoked eel taste different from how the jellied eels taste like and other dishes made with eels like unadon (a classic Japanese dish) and angula (a Spanish dish).

Due to these different cooking methods, the electric eel taste has been compared to a lot of other seafood such as lobster, raw salmon (and not cooked salmon) and catfish. It however doesn’t end there in the aquatic kingdom, some persons have compared the taste to snakes, frogs (yeah, frogs) and chicken.

Judging from the list of meats it has been compared to, we can safely assume that eels taste great even without having to eat them. And after you’ve had eels, you will most likely agree with one of the items in the list. Even I agree with some of the items on the list but then remember it all depends on how you make your eels. I haven’t had frogs so I have absolutely no idea how true this comparison is.

Eel Meat – Yes it has meat!

The eel meat is a highly sought-after meat and though there are concerns that a few species might soon be endangered, this might not be happening anytime soon due to the increasing number of eel farmers now available.

The eel meat is oil-rich, meaty, strongly flavored, and a highly nutritious fish.

The texture of the eel meat heavily depends on the habitat of the eel. Generally, the meat is considered soft but tough, that is, it is firm and chewy. However, the saltwater eel meat is tougher than the freshwater eel meat.

The meaty white fish has a shellfish sweetness according to some persons and unlike many fish, eels do not have that fishy aftertaste! So you don’t have to worry about smelling fish when you talk. When buying this fish, go for one that isn’t had yet, one that has no fishy smell and has no milky opaque eyes – that’s how fresh eel should be though an alternative to fresh eel could be frozen thawed eels.

Eels cook very fast all thanks to their soft texture and the healthiest way of making eels is by grilling them. Grilling, because that is the best way to reduce the fattiness. Eels are rich in unsaturated fat.

In Japan, the freshwater eel, unagi, and the saltwater eels, conger and anago, are the commonest eels used in cooking so, don’t be surprised when the menu at the Japanese restaurant says unagi or anago. It most likely will say unagi since the freshwater eel is less tougher.

Unagi are not only rich in fat, it is also rich in vitamins A and E, and Omega-3 fatty acids -all are substances that you should take more of because these and many more are what makes eels healthy. Eels are also a great stamina booster and an aphrodisiac. Guess you just found one more reason you should make eels for two.

What’s the deal breaker with eels?

You can’t eat eel raw. Don’t even attempt to, there’s a good reason why even the eels used in sushi are cooked eels and not raw. It’s not because the eel sushi taste better when cooked than raw, it is because eating raw eels would kill you faster than expected so raw eels should never be an option. They are poisonous.

The eel blood is poisonous to both humans and animals, and neutralizing the poison only requires you to cook it properly. If well cooked, the toxic protein in the blood becomes completely harmless and thus safe for consumption.

An interesting fact: Charles Robert Richet won a Nobel prize after his discovery of anaphylaxis using eel’s blood. Really interesting, he was actually thinking of using the poison’s blood as some sort of vaccine but he found something else: anaphylaxis.

An adult eel could weigh as much as 25kg and in the countries where it is highly consumed, it could cost up to a thousand dollars for just 1kg. You would think there was no way it could get more expensive than that but it does. Young eels, also known as elvers are also consumed especially in London. The Spanish dish, angula, is a good example of a dish made of young eels and a kilogram of elvers cost 1000 Euros. Do the exchange rate math and be awed, just like I was.

Farmed eels. How healthy are they?

That question depends on if you’re buying naturally farmed eels or chemically farmed eels. If the eels are farmed with chemicals such as nitrofuran (a cancer causing agent), drugs and/or pesticides, then do not buy that eel. Don’t.

The best guide on how to prepare Eels

Eels will definitely not likely fall under the list of easiest fishes to prepare. Though the preparation method will take a few minutes once you get the hang of it. First off, killing the fish can be exhausting especially when their autonomic nervous system refuses to shut down while the fish is already dead, so instead the fish keeps wriggling.

Just ignore the wriggling, the fish is dead. To reduce the after death wriggling exercise, most persons keep the fish in a freezer first and wait till it become dormant before killing it. To kill the fish, hit the head against a hard surface – a wall for example. Hit hard and fast.

Eels are not bony, they have just one bone (a spine) running down the middle of their body which is to be removed before cooking. Also, the tough and slippery skin of the eel should be taken off unless your recipe requires you not to. In preparing this fish, the first 3 things to know is that the bone like spine will come off, same goes for the skin and for the head.

If you bought the eel from a fishmonger, the fishmonger can help you with the killing and skinning or even with all 3 things but for a little fee to save you time and stress. However, you can do these things yourself. The fish can be skinned after having being beheaded or can be skinned first and then later beheaded.

And remember, the skin is tough so you’ll need something like a pair of pliers, a glove or even a cloth to help you with the skinning. Here are a few steps to get you started:

  1. Once the fish is dead, make a small circular slit on the skin just behind the gills.
  2. Then grasp the skin with the pair of pliers and pull it backwards. If the skin mistakenly rips, just repeat the process till you’ve got all the skin off the fish.
  3. After skinning, gut open the fish. Make a ventral cut from the point where you started skinning to the anus and remove the innards from the rib cage.
  4. Rinse the fish and then fillet it, only if your recipe calls for fish fillets. If not, cut off the head and discard, and cut your fish according to how you want them.

Easy process, glad it helped. Leaving the fish with the skin on for too long will toughen up the skin thus making it hard to pull off so skin as soon as possible.

The Best Of The Best Ways To Use Eels

Now that you have your eels ready to be used, what should you make with it since you can’t eat eel raw? There are a lot of options and we’re going to explore the most delicious ones which happen to be the commonest ones too.

  1. The basics. I probably shouldn’t have started with the basics (should have started with some fancy dish) but it’s only fair that they appear since the other dishes involve one of the basics. The basics are the the basic cooking methods like broiling, boiling, smoking, frying and the best, grilling. Almost every dish made with eels require the eels cooked in one of these ways but if you truly want to enjoy eel, grill it. Smoked eels is a very popular delicacy in places like Netherlands, Denmark and northern Germany.
  2. The fancy korean dish like jangeogui which is made of grilled eel.
  3. Angula. This dish takes on a different cooking method – sautéeing. The very expensive Spanish dish is made by sautéeing young eels (elvers) in olive oil with minced or chopped garlic and chilli peppers. This dish is also eaten in other parts of Europe.
  4. Jellied eels. This dish is a classic traditional east London dish that has been around for over centuries now. The chopped fish is prepared by boiling it in seasoned stock and then it left to cool and set to form the jelly like feel. Jellied eels is best served cold and when eaten along with pie and mash, it is referred to as eel pie and mash. Chilli vinegar and white pepper can also be eaten with jellied eels. This dish is also eaten in France, Denmark, Germany and Poland though it bares different names which when translated means jellied eels.
  5. And finally the Japanese dishes! The Japanese dishes are perhaps the commonest. There’s the unadon, unaju and the kabayaki. These dishes are expensive dishes but worth the taste

In Japan, where eel meat is considered an important part of their cuisine, eels are popularly cooked as kabayaki, where the fish is butterflied through the belly or back, marinated in a soy sauce-based mixture, then grilled. In a different dish, unadon , the serving is in a donburi type of bowl of hot rice topped with pieces of eels cooked in kabayaki style.

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Luisa Davis

Luisa Davis

Luisa Davis is a frelance writer and foodie based in Portland, California. Though raised on her mother's homestyle Italian cooking, she has spent most of the last five years traveling and immersing herself in other countries' cuisines. Her work have been published in various publications, both online and offline.

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