Like many other oily fish such as salmon, herring and mackerel, eel takes on an amazingly intense flavor and meltingly soft texture after being smoked. Even more so than other types of smoked fish, eel is incredibly rich and oily, which is why it easily is one of my favorite smoked fish. Only once in my life have I had the pleasure of trying eel straight out of the smoker and it has changed me forever… smoky, slightly warm, meltingly soft eel meat dripping with fat has got to be one of the best foods ever!
If it really is one of the best foods ever, then why am I not eating more eel and posting more eel-recipes you might ask. While in the past (smoked) eel was a cheap, readily available food that was a staple for many Dutch families, nowadays it is considered to be a true delicacy and a relatively rare treat due to the scarcity of eels in nature and its consequent high price. Luckily, a little bit of eel goes a long way due to its oiliness and intense flavor, so you might want to get some (in moderation) before they become even more expensive… or extinct.
But it can’t all be richness and oiliness… it’s summer after all! So, for this salad, I’ve combined slightly warmed smoky eel with crunchy, slightly bitter vegetables such as Belgian endive, green onion, lettuce, radish and cress, as well as some diced apple for sweetness and a sour cream and lemon dressing for some tart freshness. Technically, you could serve the salad as a light meal, or lunch just like that, but I like to add some pasta for a bit of extra bulk to make it a complete summer-y main-course salad!
Tip: An eel-monger (the one seen in my previous post about Vlaggetjesdag) told me that, like a good cheese, eel really should not be eaten cold. We can’t all be so lucky to get our hands on some smoked eel hot from the smoker, but warming up the eel slightly for a couple of minutes in an oven on 50°C will bring out all that rich flavor and oiliness that you are looking for!
Smoked Eel Pasta Salad
- For the salad:
- 3 – 4 whole smoked eels, or 200g smoked eel fillet
- 250g short pasta (farfalle, or penne)
- 1 head Belgian endive, or radicchio (about 160g)
- 2 spring onions
- 200g radishes
- 1 semi-sweet apple (around 200g)
- 75g lamb’s lettuce/corn salad (or others small, soft lettuce variety)
- 20g garden cress (optional)
- For the dressing:
- 100ml crème fraîche
- 1 tablespoon grated horseradish
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 4 tablespoons water
- Salt and black pepper to taste
- Boil the pasta: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta in salted water according to the instructions on the package. Drain the pasta and rinse under cold running water to prevent sticking.
- In the meantime, prepare the vegetables: Separate the leaves of the Belgian endive, or radicchio. Roughly chop the larger leaves. Add endive to a large bowl. Thinly slice the spring onions and add to the bowl and do the same with the radishes. Finally, dice the apple and add to the bowl. Drizzle on 1 tablespoon of lemon juice (mostly on the apples) to avoid the apples from discoloring.
- And the dressing: combine crème fraîche, 1 tablespoon grated horseradish, 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, water, and salt and black pepper to taste. Add a bit more water if the dressing seems too thick.
- Preheat the oven to 50°C.
- Prep the eels: If you’ve bought whole eels, remove the skin of off the eels and fillet the fish. Cut the smoked eel fillet into small strips.
- Heat the eels slightly: Wrap the eel fillets into a sheet of baking paper. Place into the preheated oven for 3 - 4 minutes until the eel is glossy and slightly warm (not hot!).
- Assemble the salad: Add the cold pasta and half of the dressing to the bowl with the chopped vegetables. Stir to combine. Divide the lamb’s lettuce over deep plates and scoop the pasta salad on top. Divide the strips of smoked eel fillet over the plates. Sprinkle some garden cress over the top of the salad (optional) and finish with an extra drizzle of the dressing.