This is one of the recipes that when I started this project, really made me shudder. However, as I have cooked a couple of eel recipes, I have discovered that I quite like the slippery critter and it no longer seemed such a challenge. Plus all of the weird recipes thus far have turned out pretty good and I have lost all squeamishness; I have a philosophy that in rich countries people eat things because they taste good, not because they need to simply survive.
If you wanted to buy jellied eels in London, you would have had to go to an Eel Pie and Mash House. There not many around – they declined in number from over a hundred after the Second World War to just a handful today. The most famous – and London’s oldest – extant Eel and Pie House is Manze’s in Peckham. I have never been to one of these places, but I shall try my best to frequent Manze’s next time I pop down to London. I doubt if they will ever regain popularity, even though eels have now returned to the River Thames.
This is an ‘updated’ recipe from chef Guy Mouilleron, who apparently thought of an eel slithering through a bank of watercress and thought the two might might together. The recipe is outdated; fish mousses are certainly a thing of the 1970s and 1980s; when English Food was first published.
To make the mousse, you need to prepare your eels. You’ll need around 2 ½ pounds of eel altogether. If you can get the fishmonger to skin and fillet them for you, all’s the better. I didn’t have such a luxury, but found it quite easy now that I have had certain amount of experience with eel preparation. First of all, give them a wash and wipe away any slime that may remain on the skin. To skin an eel, you first need to cut through the skin all around its neck, behind the gills. Next, either nail the head to a wooden chopping board or grasp the head with a tea-towel. Now you need to pull on the cut skin and peel the skin off like a stocking. It is quite difficult to get a purchase, so sprinkle the neck liberally with salt to create some much-needed friction. Once skinned, it is pretty easy going after that; gut it, cutting from the head-end to an inch or so past the vent so that the kidneys as well as the other internal organs can be removed. Filleting was a bit tricky – but really it was just like filleting any fish really. Use a sharp knife and cut from the head end to the tail end, pressing down on the fish with your other hand, which creates pressure and makes the cut much easier to make.
Cover the terrine or tin with a double-layer of foil and then steam it for 1 ¼ hours. I used a fish kettle for this, but if you don’t have something appropriate, you can pop it in a roasting tin containing boiling water and bake it at 160-180⁰C (325-350⁰F). When cold, put it in the fridge overnight.
The next day, make the sauce. You need a good-sized bunch of watercress. From the bunch, pick and reserve enough leaves to make around a tablespoon when chopped. The rest, liquidise in the blender, using the smallest amount of water possible. Pass the watercress slurry through a sieve and add ¼ pint of double cream and whisk it until it thickens. Season and stir through the reserved, chopped leaves. Serve a slice of the mousse with a generous spoonful of the sauce.
#313 Jellied Eel Mousse with Watercress Sauce. My God, what a sight that one was! It looked like a massive chunk of cat food and the sauce was so garish. The taste of the mousse wasn’t too bad, but the texture seemed so wrong. If it had been eaten warm as a creamy stew, it probably would have been delicious. The mild fish and the grassy watercress did not go together in my opinion. A big shame because was waiting to be surprised by its loveliness. I think I would have been happier with some proper jellied eels. Keep the fish mousse where it belongs: in the past! 2/10
“A man who is stingy with saffron is capable of seducing his own grandmother.” Norman Douglas, 1848-1952
Here’s a slightly odd recipe, as a many from Devonshire appear to be. This squab pie contains no squabs (i.e. baby pigeons), but lamb instead. It is a mystery how it got its name – Griggers suggests that the meat has changed over the years, but the name has stuck. That’ll do for me. This is a simple enough pie to make, though the ingredients are odd: lamb, apples, prunes, spices all topped off with a dollop of clotted cream. Hmmm.
This is easy to make; a simple case of layering up ingredients in a deep pie dish. Start off by removing the meat from a whole best end of neck of lamb. If this seems too much of a chore, just buy about 1 ½ pounds of neck fillet from the butcher instead. Now peel, core and slice two pounds of dessert apples – Cox’s pippins are Jane’s suggestion, but russets and braeburns to well in these sorts of things too – slice two medium onions thinly and chop around 16 prunes. Next, mix a level teaspoon of ground allspice and cinnamon along with half a grated nutmeg in a ramekin or small cup. Layer up the meat, onions, apples and prunes, seasoning the layers with the spices and salt and black pepper as you go. Now pour over a quarter of a pint of lamb stock (use the bones from the best end of neck to make it, otherwise a stock cube!). Cover with a nice thick layer of shortcrust pastry, brush with egg and bake for 30 minutes at 200⁰C, and then turn down the oven to 160⁰C and bake for a further 45 minutes. Serve with clotted cream.
#233 Devonshire Squab Pie. This pie did not turn out to be as weird as expected. You could identify each ingredient in it, and they all stood out whilst complimenting each other very well. However, I think the pie would have been much improved had the lamb been coated in flour and browned a little first so that the flavour was more intense and a thick gravy produced. Several of these pies seem to have very runny sauces. Obviously tastes have changed. The big surprise was that the clotted cream went very well. Although it did make me feel like I was eating my main and pudding all at the same time. A good recipe that could be very easily improved. 6/10.