How do You Smoke an American Native Eel?

Written by Dane in Fishing
Image Credits: Pixabay.com

After years of eating smoked chicken and salmon, I decided to do some research on smoked eel. As a result, I found that smoking this type of fish is one of the best ways to eat it. 

So, I did some more reading to find out why and how to do it, and I am almost ready to give it a try.

So how exactly do you smoke an American native eel? Generally, when smoking an eel, the process involves cutting the eel into long pieces and smoking it in a kiln for two to three hours at around at least 60 degrees Celsius. All in all, the time and temperature you smoke your eel at will depend on how big the eel is.

With smoking generally believed to be the best way to cook an eel, it is right to assume that there must be a better taste and other benefits associated with it. 

With grilled, baked, fried, and even jellied eel recipes, what makes smoked eel the most popular method of cooking the fish? Keep reading to find out for yourself.

How to Smoke an American Eel

Smoking eel is a long process, but it is certainly worth the trouble. So, why is the process so long? Most experts recommend smoking your eel anywhere from two to four hours.

After you get your eel all prepped and ready to go, sit back, relax and find something to do. On the plus side, you’ll be good and hungry by the time the eel is ready to eat.

How to Smoke an American Eel - Step by step:

  • Brining
  • Drying
  • Smoking

After cleaning your eel, brining is usually the first step when the intention is to smoke it before eating. The main purpose of this practice is to bring a little bit of extra flavor into your final product.

Many popular recipes have recommended getting a large enough container to fit the eel and filling it with cold water. To this bucket, add salt, brown sugar and even some garlic, onion, or herbs for added flavor.

Once the salt and sugar are dissolved, place the eel into it and seal the container. Let it sit for 24 to 48 hours in order to effectively brine the fish.

When you have finished brining the eel, it will have to be dried before you can begin the smoking process. This can be done by wiping down the eel with a towel to remove the slime that coats the outer layer.

Due to the fact that the average brine recipe is quite weak, it is important not to rinse the eel in fresh water afterwards. Hang the eel vertically from rods in your drying area which should be an enclosed space away from disturbances. It should be hung by the head for two hours in order to seal in the moisture to the fullest extent.

It is important not to skip out on the drying process for any reason Drying is important because it helps with the formation of a pellicle on the skin which helps to retain moisture.

Next, the process of smoking the eel will finally begin once it has been dried out. The easiest way to complete this is by firing up your smoker about 30 minutes in advance.

The temperature to set it to will vary depending on how big your eel is and how much you are smoking, but most sources have temperatures that range from 60 to to 90 degrees Celsius.

At the beginning of the smoking process, you should be smoking your eel at a higher temperature to close off the stomach cavity, the temperature can be lowered when the eel starts to harden.

It is also important to not smoke the eel too hot or they will split and the oil will burst out.

It is possible to smoke eel horizontally, but more often than not they are smoked vertically. Since the eel already had to be hung vertically to dry, it’ll save time to leave them hung that way for smoking. Cook time varies as well, but recipes range from two to four hours.

When the eel is done smoking, it should should be a dark golden color, and if the eel is still mushy it should be cooked longer.

Smoked Eel Vs. Other Cooking Methods

Smoking eel is just one way you prepare it, but the truth is that eel can be prepared just like any other fish. There are many other methods of cooking eel besides smoking, and some are arguably much easier.

Here are just a few of those methods:

  • Jellied eel
  • Grilled eel
  • Fried eel

Jellying the eel is another popular preparation method that is practiced before consuming. After soaking it in salt water for five minutes and rinsing it, you’ll want to place it in a saucepan and add vinegar, sliced onion, peppercorns, bay leaves, salt, and water then it bring to a boil over high heat. Jellied eel is usually served as a cold treat.

When grilling eel, as with any type of meat, you’ll want to place your eel on the grill until it is cooked thoroughly, adding any spices or sauces that are desired. Grilled eel, or Unagi, is a popular Japanese dish and eel is often grilled when made with sushi.

Frying eel is very similar to frying fish or chicken. When frying eel, cut it into two or three-inch chunks then dip them into beaten egg or milk and cover it in your favorite breading or seasoning. Fry it until it’s golden brown and you’re all finished.

The Benefits of Smoking Eel

So now you know you know how to smoke eel compared to other methods of cooking eel but maybe you’re still not convinced. Why is smoking eel such a popular method of making it when there are so many other cooking methods out there?

For one thing, eel has several health benefits and smoking eel keeps all of the vitamins, as well as the rich flavor, intact.

Eel contains:

  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin B-12
  • Isoleucine
  • Lysine
  • Tryptophan

The health benefits of eel:

  • Skin health
  • Formation of DNA
  • Regeneration of cells and tissues
  • Bone health
  • Assist digestion

Is there anything to be avoided while smoking eel?

When brining your eel, make sure it is not too salty or you’re going to end up with a super salty, and probably unpleasant, tasting eel after all of that time it takes to smoke it. After you finish brining, the eel, throw the brine away, it is not something you want to use again. If you plan on making a new batch right afterward, make an entirely new brine.

What is the shelf life of a smoked eel?

Smoked eel is known to last longer than most other smoked proteins. If you are going to leave it in a regular container, it will stay good for three to four days at a chill temperature. However, if you really want to keep it for a long time, it can stay for about four weeks if it is vacuum sealed and chilled, or up to 12 weeks frozen.

What is eel commonly eaten with?

Eel can be found on the menu at multiple restaurants all around the world, but is most commonly used with sushi in Chinese and Japanese cuisine. It can be smoked or grilled when used for this purpose, and is often served with eel sauce.

About Dane

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