Slip Sliding Away
February 24, 2013 4:40 AM   Subscribe

The Englishman and the eel is a photo essay of 93 images (thumbnails here; 2 pages) and article by London photographer Stuart Freedman that "attempts to look at (amongst other things) the significance and the decline of the eel and its fading from the changing London consciousness" with snapshots of "those palaces of Cockney culture, the Pie and Mash shops."

As reported here, the European eel is officially "critically endangered," and the interesting "British Food: A History" blog recently discussed The Eel Paradox.
posted by taz (30 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Also, Al Jazeera has a good video and short article that notes "A Swedish company, Scandinavian Silver Eel, takes juvenile eels from British rivers, which would have only a five per cent chance of survival, and flies them to Sweden, where they have a 98 per cent survival rate... Around 70 per cent of these young eels are returned to the river system, and 30 per cent are grown in aquaculture farms for human consumption."
posted by taz at 4:51 AM on February 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

I grew up in the US South and have eaten some strange stuff but cannot for the life of me conjure up the taste/mouth feel of jellied eel. Is it an acquired taste or does any average Brit eat/enjoy it?
posted by jmccw at 5:25 AM on February 24, 2013

I'll still never forget walking across a damp island meadow, and meeting an eel happily slithering between two tiny streams. Eels are weirder than you could think possible.
posted by scruss at 5:34 AM on February 24, 2013

I don't understand the combination of modesty — "Although I’m certainly no interiors photographer..." — and putting the copyright symbol and name in the middle of every picture. Does he want us to look at this stuff or not? A plate of jellied eels... and copyright Stuart Freedman... I know the jellied eels are disgusting but don't like the 2 levels of disgustingess. I looked away.
posted by Alizaria at 6:45 AM on February 24, 2013

I really liked how this touches on social class, history, conservation, agriculture, tradition and cooking. Eels--surprisingly rich subject! And the photographer seemed very thoughtful about his subject.

I do kind of want that parsley sauce recipe. I Googled for it but the one that seemed probably closest (relatively simple ingredients, only parsley as the herb) called for a béchamel and that didn't seem right. It does seem kind of a constant that it gets finished with a bit of vinegar, which is interesting because you'd think 'lemon' but it makes sense that 'lemons' wouldn't figure into the traditional ingredients at hand.

I'm cool with missing out on jellied eels though.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 7:00 AM on February 24, 2013

The ability of eels to migrate despite barriers is pretty amazing. There are three dams between my house and the Atlantic Ocean (here, here, and here) yet I have still managed to catch a mess of eels from my dock while trying for catfish.
posted by TedW at 7:04 AM on February 24, 2013

There's nothing like a big steaming cup of eels.

posted by blue_beetle at 7:06 AM on February 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

A Terrible Llama: How about this one?
posted by elsietheeel at 7:16 AM on February 24, 2013

I think that's the one that I was looking at but was thrown off that there was flour in it. In my head, I'm imagining it like the kind of broth you'd wind up with with mussels, just basically butter and cooking liquid but maybe I'm envisioning it wrong and it's thicker. I'm intrigued by the using vinegar as the acid.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 7:28 AM on February 24, 2013

Eels. (Obligatory)
posted by MartinWisse at 7:41 AM on February 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

WSJ: "European eel stocks have fallen to below 10% of 1970s levels, according to the International Council for the Exploitation of the Sea in Copenhagen. In parts of the Baltic and Mediterranean 99% of the stocks are believed to have vanished. (...)
One major threat to Europe's eels comes from the other side of the world. (...) infant eels are much sought after by Chinese fish farmers, who raise them to adulthood and sell them on to the Japanese market (...)."
posted by iviken at 8:46 AM on February 24, 2013

The ability of eels to migrate despite barriers is pretty amazing.

That, roger! One should see, he said, mine hovercraft.
posted by hal9k at 8:47 AM on February 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's a bit thicker than you're imagining; more like a green gravy. GIS for pie and mash.
posted by elsietheeel at 9:06 AM on February 24, 2013

I just realized that my posting in this thread is rather eponysterical. Heh.
posted by elsietheeel at 9:07 AM on February 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

The ability of eels to migrate despite barriers is pretty amazing.

"Eels up inside ya, finding an entrance where they can..."
posted by villanelles at dawn at 9:08 AM on February 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'm just here to applaud the post title.
posted by tigrefacile at 9:25 AM on February 24, 2013

OK, what is the best place in London to get pie and mash and eels? I see two at least Cooke's— A. Cooke's and F. Cooke's. I'm assuming they're related?
posted by stargell at 9:27 AM on February 24, 2013

tigrefacile, I don't remember which, but I baldfaced snatched it from one of these (or whichever one the one I snatched it from snatched it from. It's slippery eels all the way down).
posted by taz at 9:41 AM on February 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

>OK, what is the best place in London to get pie and mash

Any of the above, really. The pie really isn't like chip shop pie - real meat and good gravy, although slightly institutional. You could run an Empire on them. Manze's deliver.

>and eels?

Please don't do this bit. There really aren't enough eels left to do anything other than emergency captive breeding programs. You might as well be eating panda, or albatross. Also, jellied eels: they're absolutely revolting. Like schoolroom pencil erasers covered in cold snot. The stewed way is better, but it's not actually very nice. It's kind of a no win: no win.
posted by cromagnon at 10:03 AM on February 24, 2013

Understood, cromagnon. Though come to think of it, panda-and-albatross pie sounds kind of tasty.
posted by stargell at 10:06 AM on February 24, 2013

Never actually had British eel dishes despite growing up in London. Chinese red-cooked eel is delicious, and I've had dishes like that used live eel from Chinese supermarkets in London. Don't know if those eels were native or not
posted by Bwithh at 10:15 AM on February 24, 2013

Sorry, that came out more than a little overbearing. But I absolutely guarantee panda-and-albatross pie will have more redeeming features than jellied eels.
posted by cromagnon at 10:45 AM on February 24, 2013

Following EU export restrictions on eels, there has been a huge surge in eel poaching here in Maine.

They do it at night, pack handguns, and make ca. $10,000 a week. According to one guy, "I buy a new truck every year. I'd like to save up more money, but I generally blow the rest on prostitutes and drugs".
posted by dunkadunc at 11:20 AM on February 24, 2013

Elver-fishing is a thing in the Severn, quite close to where I live. Eels have an amazing life-cycle - "They spawn in the Sargasso Sea and make their way on a three year journey across the Atlantic as larvae to return to rivers in the UK as young eels. For the next four to ten years they grow and change in form and colour and make the long journey back to the Sargasso." "The European eel (Anguilla anguilla) has a particular association with Gloucestershire. During its youth, as an elver, it lies in the River Severn and years ago, the banks would be lined with fisherman at night, trying to catch eels and elvers to eat."

They use triangular nets on a big wooden frame but I think licences are limited now because of the scarcity. Of course there are poachers. Wriggly little glass-like elvers are a regional delicacy (shudder) and I think I've read about all-you-can-eat elver competitions in the past. Ooh, here's a link: Until recently an annual event at Frampton on Severn was the Elver Eating Contest, where contestants would make pigs of themselves by stuffing as many elvers as they could into their mouths. Due to the scarcity and cost, this has now ceased.

Here's some film of elvers swimming upstream at Tewksbury.

I've only once seen the Severn full of elvers (that year Bristol Museum installed a tank of them which lasted for years as they got bigger and bigger while decreasing in number) and in 30 years only once seen a local river swarming with black muscle-y eels making their way back to the sea, at Dawlish in the autumn.
posted by glasseyes at 12:25 PM on February 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

I can only think off eel as Japanese food. Teriyaki eel with rice and eel sushi are delicious, and hardly more expensive than teriyaki chicken. If it wasn't for the Mighty Boosh I wouldn't know the Brits ate them. That said, since I already like the taste of eel I'm keen to try the British version.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 1:38 PM on February 24, 2013

Mmmmm, eel. As children, we'd catch the abundant elvers with a sieve and our gran would fry them in the pot she had for chips/ french fries. It feels endlessly sad that our children will never have the same experience. Grown eels were in our ditch, also easy to catch with a thing that looked like a huge fork. Smoked or fried, a favorite food. Imagine that this wonderful food will be lost entirely, like the dodo-bird, because of lack of reason.
BTW, it seems like it's the Japanese passion that are killing them off.
posted by mumimor at 3:03 PM on February 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

When the moon hits your eye, like an old cockney pie. That's a moray.
posted by panaceanot at 5:09 PM on February 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

You might as well be eating panda, or albatross.

Albatross? What flavor?
posted by Dr Dracator at 5:23 AM on February 25, 2013

since I already like the taste of eel I'm keen to try the British version.

About twelve years ago, on a visit to London, I asked a British colleague to steer me to some traditional English food. He sent me to an eel, pie and mash place where I had stewed eels and mash. I have successfully forgotten precisely how it tasted (except that I really really did not like it), but it was nothing at all like unagi, which is delicious.

Still, I am glad I had the experience.
posted by caryatid at 10:03 AM on February 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

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