Friday, 4 January 2013

My most-loved dish of 2012

My favourite dish of all of last year is, admittedly, not something you can just pick up at your local Tesco Metro/Delhaize City, but "bear with" as it is the most delicious food in the world: Räucheraal (smoked eel). Its flesh is unlike - yet far superior to - that of all other smoked fish: rich and dense with an almost creamy, delicate texture - simply divine.

But this dish also has huge sentimental value for me - it takes me straight back to my childhood kitchen table in Northern Germany and seated next to my late mother. She was - like many Bremer(innen) - the most extreme and seasoned Räucheraal connoisseur and ran her "eel procuring business" like a tight ship. Suppliers who didn't come up to scratch would be dropped ruthlessly ("I had to let go of that last one - nasty business..." she would mutter darkly over the phone, "but don't worry - Lotte (her local "runner") and I found someone up Bremerhaven way - he's got the real stuff!") No surprise then that both she and I were hardcore users: once the latest delivery was on the table, we would both tuck into "one each" swiftly and feverishly and didn't stop until the last piece of bone had been sucked clean and the last piece of skin had been scraped clear of all its remaining fat...

"A juicy one!" (ca 1974)

But the really, really best days where when my uncle Rolf fired up the battered old tin drum in his shed and smoked his own eels (which he'd caught himself in the river Weser that morning) - and then carry all 10/12 of them still supended on the metal smoking rod into the kitchen, dripping their fat all over the floor. Our part of the loot was speed-wrapped in foil and newspaper and we'd make a swift getaway so we could devour them at home while they were still hot!

Last year I took Rolf's widow to her favourite Aalräucherei in Bremerhaven where she insisted on buying us a wonderfully juicy and fat Aal. Once back in Brussels, I turned it into the most wonderful and delicate:

Smoked eel salad with hazelnuts and tarragon vinaigrette (serves 4)

30g hazelnuts 
4 bacon rashers (without rinds)
4 generous handfuls of lamb's lettuce
200 - 300g smoked eel 
6 tbs hazelnut oil
4 tbs vegetable oil
2 tbs tarragon vinegar
4 tsp smooth mild mustard
Cut the eel into 6cm pieces, discarding any skin and bones.
Toast the hazelnuts lightly in a dry pan. Remove and set aside to cool.
Put the bacon in the (still dry) pan and fry until crisp.
Crush the nuts coarsely with a rolling pin (in a ziplock bag), and cut or crumble the bacon into pieces. 
Put a handful of lamb's lettuce leaves on each plate and scatter over the nuts and bacon followed by the eel pieces.
Whisk the dressing ingredients with seasoning to taste and spoon over each plate.

So please please please give smoked eel a try: it is easily available online, it won't break the bank as a little goes a long way - and it freezes extremely well.

1 comment:

  1. Lovely post. I can vouch for that salad. Delicious!!!