Living & Eating on Long Island's East End 
                         Vintage Cuisine - Smoked Eel

My name is Monique.
I'm a 2-time Emmy Award winning TV Producer.
Having been in the business for over 20 years,
I always wanted a website where I could share my thoughts and interesting information, so 
here goes.

Last year when I got married, I moved out of New York City to the East End of Long Island, to ...wait for it...The Hamptons.

Now before you roll your eyes, there's more to the Hamptons than mansions and celebrities.

The Hamptons have some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, miles of productive farmland, plus a rich clamming history that continues to this day.

When I moved out east and realized I was surrounded, not just by the bounty of the sea, but also local farms and vineyards, I couldn't wait to explore and sample my new environment.

That's what this blog is about.  Living, exploring, discovering, news, food, history and sharing those experiences.

You'll notice that my blog is a little of this and a little of that, kind of like a potluck meal.

They slither on top and around each other inside the cooler, looking just like a bucket full of snakes, but these are eels and I'm going to eat them. Yikes!

I had heard that eating eels was a big tradition out here on the island from several local people. Everyone who ate them said they were really good and described them with gusto. "I love smoked eel!"

Not being squeamish, I was looking forward to trying them one day, then I finally got the chance. Last weekend my husband brought some home that had recently been caught.

When he brought them home I asked him to open up the cooler so I could see them and photograph them. I was surprised to see they were so active. They really looked like snakes slithering around amongst each other. One even looked up at me, I half expected it to stick it's tongue out at me.

      Antique Old Fordham Sag Harbor Fish Eel Spear

Out here on the East End, local baymen and fishermen have caught and trapped eels since colonial days. At one time it was a standard dish served as well, but not so much anymore. Today they are mostly harvested for export to Asia, but some local markets do still sell eel, like Southold Fish Market. 

Traps are used today, but eel spears were once used back in the 1800s and 1900s. The painting "Eel Spearing at Setauket" by William Sidney Mount shows what eel fishing looked like in the mid 1800s.

         Eel Spearing at Setauket by William Sidney Mount

 freshwater and marine eel are popular in most Asian countries. The freshwater eel is eaten in European countries like Spain and the U.K., as well as here in the U.S.

Eels begin their lives as larvae in the ocean. When they get a bit bigger they enter estuaries, where they swim upstream to freshwater ponds and rivers, there they'll live until returning to the ocean to spawn.

But they are slimey suckers, so the first thing you have to do is 'de-slime' them.  

My husband dispenses of them quickly by chopping their heads off.  Then he de-slimes them by tumbling them around in a large metal bowl full of kosher salt. Using his hands he covers the eels completely with the salt, then mixing them in the bowl. He says this removes the slime off the eels and it works.       The salt absorbs their slimey moisture, then the eels are hosed down outdoors to wash the salt and slime away.

Now comes the fun part, gutting and cleaning the eels. Just slice them down the middle and remove the organs. This is a messy and time consuming endeavor. Then we wash them yet again with the hose. Don't even think of cleaning eels indoors, it is a messy job.

Next we cover them in salt again and let them sit for an hour to brine them. Then they are rinsed off a third time and dried by blotting them with paper towels.

Finally they are ready for the smoker. We tie strings round the eels' flipper-like appendages, near where their heads were cut off. They are then hung in the smoker. We stock the smoker with cherrywood and smoke the eels for five to six hours.

                       Eels smoking in the Smoker

Because this was our first time, we smoked them with the skin and bones still intact, which meant both had to be removed before eating. That was time-consuming as well and I can see why most people don't want to bother with them.  

The skin, which feels like a deflated balloon, is strong and peels off easily. De-boning the eel is a bit of a pain, because you have to slice it in half and carefully fillet it with your hands.

This is not a pop in your mouth kind of dish. It is time consuming to prepare, but worth it. If you like smoked fish and other fishy fish like sardines, herring and kippers, which I do, you will love this. The smoked meat is salty, fishy and very flavorful. Think smoked bluefish, salted cod, kippers or gravlax.

With a Scandinavian mother and grandparents born under the British crown, I grew up on fishy foods like smoked salmon and sardines on toast. This is comfort food to me.

A favorite way we like to prepare smoked fish is to fine chop the meat and mix it into a mayonnaise-based dip, then spread it on crackers. This works really well with the eel, which has a strong, oily, fishy flavor. Yum!

There will be more eels in my future, so I plan to check out other recipes to see how else they can be prepared. If anyone has a family eel recipe they'd like to share, I will try it.

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