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Is Eel Good to Eat? Here’s What You Need to Know

Is Eel Good to Eat? Here’s What You Need to Know

Eel has a unique flavor that is often described as being rich, oily, mildly “fishy”, and slightly sweet. It is sometimes compared to the taste of chicken or snake, but it has its own distinct flavor profile.

Freshwater eel is generally considered to have a milder flavor than saltwater eel. Eel that is grilled or smoked tends to have a more intense flavor than eel that is fried. The texture of eel meat is delicate when raw, becoming firmer when cooked properly. Overcooked, the texture can become rubbery and chewy, almost like overcooked octopus or squid. 

Freshwater eel (unagi) and saltwater eels (anago, conger) are eaten in recipes around the world, often enjoyed grilled, smoked, or fried, particularly in Japan.

Only skilled chefs are offering raw eel to eat, because eel blood can be very toxic, and if it’s not drained properly from eel meat, it’s dangerous. A home chef shouldn’t take the chance. 

Here are some tips for preparing and enjoying eel:

Eel can be purchased fresh, frozen, or smoked. If you are buying fresh eel, be sure to clean it thoroughly and remove the backbone before cooking.

Eel can be cooked in a variety of ways, including grilling, smoking, frying, and baking. When cooking eel, it is important to avoid overcooking it, as this can make it tough and rubbery.

Eel is often served with rice and vegetables. It can also be added to soups, stews, and sushi rolls.

Anthony Bourdain Eats Every Part of an Eel in Tokyo

Eel Cooking Techniques

Eels can be prepared and cooked in many delicious and traditional ways. Here are some of the ways that eel is cooked, prepared and served:

  • Donburi: In Japan unagi don is the most popular eel dish, it is essentially a bowl of rice topped with eel.
  • Sushi: While rarely raw eel is offered in some high-grade sushi restaurants, it’s best practice to include it as a cooked offering for safety reasons.
  • Tempura: Eel can also be battered and deep-fried for tender-crisp experience.
  • Grilled: Grilling eel brings out its natural sweetness and gives it a slightly smoky flavor.
  • Jellied: In some cultures, eel is boiled and then allowed to cool and set, forming a savory jelly.
  • Smoked: Smoking eel gives it a rich, smoky flavor that complements its natural sweetness.

Fun Fact: Eel sauce doesn’t actually have any eel in it. It is a sweet, brown sauce for braising, garnish, or dipping all kinds of seafood, sushi, and more.

The bottom line

Overall, eel has a unique flavor profile. When cooked properly, it is tender, flaky, and slightly sweet and savory. If you are looking for a new seafood experience, I encourage you to give eel a try.  Whether you’re an adventurous eater looking to try something new or a seafood lover seeking to expand your palate, see what you think of eel next time you’re cooking.