Eels comprise a massive family of fish consisting of over 800 species. You can find eel in salt water and in freshwater.
They are long, slithery fish that you may mistake for water snakes if it weren’t for their fish head and elongated top fin that runs the length of their bodies.
Apart from their often-scary appearance, eels are a popular delicacy in many cultures, including Japan, Europe, and New Zealand.
If you’re wondering whether you can eat eel, the short answer is yes. All eel species are edible, but only certain parts of the eel are safe to eat.
Below, you can read about eel ecology, culinary uses, taste, and preparation.
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Do People Eat Eel and Is It Safe?
Not only do people eat eel, but they are a prized delicacy. They are farmed and overfished, making the red list of many animal advocacy organizations.
The biggest consumer of eel is Japan, which serves both freshwater eel (unagi) and saltwater eel (conger eel).
European countries from north to south favor freshwater eel. Eels are safe to eat, but their blood is toxic. Therefore, to safely eat eels, you must cook them to eliminate the poisonous compound from their blood.
Cooked eel is one of the most expensive dishes on menus worldwide, and you’ll be glad you paid the extra cash to try them.
What Does It Taste Like?
Freshwater eels have softer, delicate meat, while saltwater eels are firmer, with thicker, tougher edible skin.
They both have a subtle, sweet flavor that many have compared to squid and bass.
Freshwater eel has the best flavor for grilling or pan frying and placing atop sushi rolls.
Can You Eat Eel Raw?
You cannot eat eels raw because of their toxic blood. Consumption of even a few drops of eel blood raw can kill a human being.
Once cooked, eel is a healthy fish, packed with protein, omega-three fatty acids, and other important vitamins and minerals.
How To Cook Eel
There are countless ways to cook eel, and every culture has unique traditions to highlight the flavor and texture.
In Japan, unagi is a popular eel sushi consisting of marinated and grilled eel.
In Northern and Central Europe, smoked eel is a popular delicacy. In London, boiled and jellied eel is an iconic dish that both infuses the eel with flavor and preserves it. In Southern Europe, eel is pan-fried with olive oil and garlic as a sumptuous main course.
Eel has a delicious flavor that many cooking methods enhance. The important thing is to cook it!
As Japan is the biggest consumer, their eel recipes are the most plentiful. You can try their unagi recipe for marinated eel over rice. You can also try your hand at smoking eel so you can enjoy it over time.
This simple pan-fried eel recipe is a delicious option to serve with mashed potatoes and a white wine sauce.
Is It Safe to Eat Eel?
It is safe to eat cooked eel, and it is also a delicious and expensive delicacy. While poisonous blood may sound scary, cooking an eel eliminates any risk of intoxication. That’s why eels are such a treasured and expensive commodity! If you can’t find it at your local fish counter, you should definitely order it at your local sushi bar.