I just didn't have the energy this week to take home a still-alive eel from the market and wrestle it to the counter, bludgeon it, eviscerate it, and wash off the uniquely slimy blood. Neither did my fishmonger, for as soon as he turned away to tend to another customer, the eel slithered out of the bag and was several feet closer to freedom.
He then chased it down and put an end to its slithering. Or so I thought.
When I brought the eel home and took it out of its bag, I noticed how tense its musculature still felt underneath the spotted skin. My plan was to roast a third, deep-fry a third, and simmer a third in soup.
I set about dividing the eel (maybe a foot and a half long) into thirds with a pair of kitchen shears. Cutting apart an eel is not for the faint of heart. As soon as my blade went into its spine, the eel began undulating forcefully underneath the pressure of the shears.
You just have to embrace the slither of the eel once it's been cut apart. I set the eel near my desk as I wrote in the morning and watched as its sections writhed back and forth. I thought of how fun it would be to cook an eel with kids and pretend you're having basilisk (of Harry Potter lore) for dinner.
Two thirds of the eel stopped slithering after half an hour or so, but the part with the head still attached kept meandering across the cutting board all morning. Finally, when it was time for lunch, I popped the section with its head still attached into the oven and let it roast.
I enjoy simmered and deep-fried eel as much as the next eel lover, but I think roasting is the best and easiest preparation for this animal. Basted in oil, the skin will become crispy as the fat underneath the skin renders away. The flesh—somewhere between a fish and alligator—will remain tender as it roasts in the oven for the better half of an hour.
Once roasted, the eel can be enjoyed as is with a squeeze of lemon and some salt and pepper. But it's even better served with some kind of sour, garlicky sauce that contrasts with the richness of the meat. Grated garlic, diced capers, parsley, lemon, red wine vinegar, and olive oil went into my impromptu sauce. You could use olives, anchovies, and whatever else sour and briny you have at your disposal.
This should be really be called: How to Roast an Eel When It's Done Slithering.
About the author: Chichi Wang took her degree in philosophy, but decided that writing about food would be much more fun than writing about Plato. She firmly believes in all things offal, the importance of reading great books, and the necessity of three-hour meals. If she were ever to get a tattoo, it would say "Fat is flavor." Visit her blog, The Offal Cook.