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May 29, 2005 11:15 AM

Fresh, live eel - How to cook? Recipes?

  • c

I bought a nice, live eel at the DuPont Circle farmers market in DC this morning. The seller's wife suggested I skin it as I would a catfish, and grill is on medium until flaky. She also suggested I flavor it w/ a bit of soy sauce and olive oil.

Any other suggestions would be appreciated. Many thanks!


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  1. Wow - is it still alive now? I've never seen live eel for sale. Coincidentally, I just now ate some Unagi for breakfast.

    2 Replies
    1. re: rudeboy

      He's/she's been in the fridge since 10 a.m. or so, so perhaps in a state of suspended animation. Yes, it was interesting to see the fishmonger's wife grab the guy (the eel, not her husband); had to wear gloves.

      Should be tasty and I hope I get some recipe and cooking suggestions.


      1. re: Chalmers

        Since they can't breathe out of water, it's not in "suspended animation", it's just dying. If you're going to cook it tonight, it probably won't matter, otherwise it will keep better if you gut it before holding onto it much longer.

    2. Well, you're in for an adventure, but a delicious one. I've only ever prepared an eel that was freshly caught, but yours is too, sort of! The first "fun" thing is to kill it. I don't think I'd just let it die in the fridge. The quickest way is to cut its head off. Do that while it's still "dozing". It will twitch for a while, however. Now you must skin it. The skin is very tough. You'll be amply rewarded by the firm sweet meat underneath. If you opt not to cut the head off, you can nail the head to something (that'll probably kill it too) and score the skin all around below the head. The problem is, that it's very slippery. Use pliers to grasp the the skin and begin peeling it down toward the tail, like you'd remove a stocking. Cut into sections. Don't worry about bones. (I don't recall gutting it, but there must be an obvious place to slit open and remove the innards).

      To cook, I recommend grilling. You can brush it with soy while it cooks. But it can be braised, or pan fried. Check around for other methods too. Please let us know how you fared!

      2 Replies
      1. re: Pat Hammond

        dear god...

        It had better taste bloody marvellous, is all I can say!

        1. re: Pat Hammond


          Great suggestions, but ...

          Does one really remove stockings with pliers??? : D


        2. I just finished a meal of soy and olive oil marinated eel grilled over medium heat. In short it was delicious, but I can't say the trouble of preparing the critter was worth it. As Pat noted, it's a tough bugger to skin; if there's more than one way to skin an eel, I wish I knew.

          I used about five different types of knives (one cleaver for the beheading and de-tailing) to get the bloody skin off. Apropos of bloody, the eel bled like the proverbial stuck pig after its Marie Antoinettation. Then there was the seemingly endless writhing; the eel's, not mine. Almost enough to make me go vegetarian.

          Eventually I managed enough of a starter cut along the eel's belly with a boning knife, which I followed along alternately using this blade and my kitchen shears. Along this merry path I met the heart and the liver and I believe the intestine, this last one of which I didn't get all of before cooking and eating. Did I mention yet that the eel still moved after all of this effort and when it hit the grill?

          As for cooking time, I can't say how long I kept it on the Weber but the meat was flaky when I pulled it off; bit it off really, too many bones to manage w/ a knife and fork. As I said, the result was very tasty but a fairly small reward for the effort. This is my first go around at this sort of thing so if anyone can either give me instructions on better ways of separating an eel from its skin or point me to a resource than can, I'd greatly appreciate it.

          Now to work on this dam eel smell on me hands!

          Cheers to all who advised and until the next culinary adventure.


          7 Replies
          1. re: Chalmers

            Congratulations! I don't count my eel as a culinary triumph, but for pure cooking from scratch, it's at the top of the list! And I applaud you for not just chucking the wriggly mess into the garbage. I wonder what kind of eel you bought. Salt water or fresh? Mine was from salt water, and not very big. I'll have to see if I can find more about eels. They're supposed to be a delicacy. I imagine they're great when smoked. Maybe you can smoke one next time...if there IS a next time.

            Cheers to you.

            1. re: Pat Hammond

              Good question about the waters from whence was fished the eel (or eeled the eel?). The fishmonger's wife said that they normally don't carry eel as it is a by-product of their efforts to catch crabs; salt water then I suspect. After skinning, it weighed about 8.5 oz, bones included. I threw out the bones before weighing them.

              I may give it another go and will report if I do.

            2. re: Chalmers

              and if eel smell is anything like fish smell...

              It might be too late for this, but wash your hands in COLD water (hot only 'cooks' the fish/eel oil onto your hands), and rub your hands vigorously over something metal. Like along a metal sink, or tap.

              I find this helps (though I am sure someone's going to call me on the science of it all)

              1. re: Chalmers

                Rub your hands well with fresh lemon juice. Wash with soap and warm water!

                1. re: Chalmers

                  Wow, good for you for hanging in there--not sure I could have--loved reading your story!

                  1. re: Chalmers

                    I have no experience with eels, but this is how some people skin catfish. It might work with eel as well. It was a farmer who did this, he nailed the catfish (thru the head) to the side of his barn. Then used pliers and pulled the skin off the fish. He then cut the body of the fish from the head. The side of his barn was covered with catfish skulls. Quite a sight!

                    1. re: Chalmers

                      done eel today so nice hmmm but i found easy way to skin the eel was lay it on its back cut the head off but not all the way through leave the skin still on the so called top of the head but dont cut all the way then while still on its back cut down the belly line to the anus at this point gut the little blighter so you got like T shape then with a towl to stop the slippery thing getting away bend the head back where still attached put your finger down between the spine and the skin and simply pull the head back down the body its easy takes about two minutes to gut and skin try that way

                    2. Was just at a party at a sake kura, Sawa no I, in Tokyo. The theme of the party was "unagi". There was fresh eel. It was first gutted and split open. Then steamed, deboned and grilled over bincho (sumibiyaki). As it was ready to come off the grill it was lightly glazed with a sweet soy sauce.

                      Tender, flakey and melting in the mouth. Excellent with the sake. But the chef did admit, quite a process, but for him (and for all of us), worth the effort.