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What are Jellied Eels?

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  • Written By: Sonal Panse
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 17 November 2016
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Jellied eels are a well-known seafood dish made from freshwater silver eels. It has been part of British cuisine, particularly the English cuisine of London's East End area, since the 18th century. Eels, which were found in plentiful quantities in the Thames river, were inexpensive and nutritious, and eel dishes were very popular with the poor and working-class population of the East End. Many street vendors and pie and mash shops did a brisk business selling jellied eels and other eel dishes.

By an Act of Parliament, in recognition for the help and food provided by Dutch fishermen during the Great Fire of London, the Dutch had the monopoly on eel fishing for a long time. The eels were kept in water-filled barrels in the fish market to be sold fresh to customers. The appeal of jellied eels suffered a setback with the coming of the Industrial Revolution, when the industrial waste from the factories polluted the river and made it difficult for eels to survive in the waters. Often unscrupulous pie-men would buy dead fish cheaply from fishermen and use such fish to make jellied eels and eel pies, masking the bad taste with an abundance of spices, and this led to many food-poisoning cases. These days, environmental regulations have once again made the river safe for both eels and consumers.

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To make jellied eels, the eels are first being gutted and cleaned, and then they are boiled and simmered until tender in a pan of water, vinegar, spices and lemon juice. The cooked eels are removed and chopped into round pieces, while the stock is strained, mixed with egg whites and heated again. The eel pieces are placed back into the stock and then refrigerated. The eels release collagen as they are cooked and form a soft jelly as they cool. The jellied eels can be eaten both cold and hot, and are usually flavored with chili vinegar.

This British cuisine is gaining in popularity once again as a nutritious, healthy seafood. There are many unique recipes to make jellied eels, and these type of eel dishes are eaten in other countries as well. The dish is known as anguilla in Italy, aspic d'anguille in France and Aal in Aspik in Germany. The Spanish have a dish called angula, made from baby eels, while the Japanese have steamed and grilled unagi.

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