Saturday, February 21, 2015

Char-Grilled Eels--Japanese style (makes 8-10 young eels)

When I visit An Trach Market (in Vietnam) the vendors are always so willing to share with me their best and freshest produce. I have not thought about eating young eels on this trip but when I saw them swimming around in a large container I thought this may be my last chance to eat them! It also seems that even though I do not intend on buying much when I visit An Trach Market, somehow on seeing the fresh ingredients I can be easily convinced by these friendly vendors to try some! My friend Ken (back in New Hampshire) informed me several months back that due to high market demand for baby eels there has been a lot of illegal poaching (for the young eels) in his hometown. I was told these baby eels go for $1000 USD per pound and are shipped to markets in countries such as Japan. 

The eel vendor beat each eel's head with a heavy mallet to kill it and then cleaned all 8 for me. I left her with the eels after I saw how she killed one and told her I will return for them after shopping. After she cleaned them I still had to scrape the skin well and remove the belly contents once home. I then rub them well with vinegar until all the slime is gone. I slice into both sides of the backbone to semi fillet them. After this I pour about half of the sauce to marinade them in a clean bag. I char-grilled these and they tasted pretty good, not soft and mushy like what you get from most Japanese restaurants across the United States. Shiho, my Japanese friend, confirmed that the Japanese char-grilled eels do not have any garlic or ginger. However, I prefer these ingredients in my eels. You may omit them but they may not be as tasty (my opinion).  

My grandmother has never eaten eels in her 95 years. However, after I made them she actually tried a little piece and thought it was tasty. So far she ate most of my food with the exception of the grilled mice which she was too afraid to try.

char-grilled (Vietnamese style)
Char-Grilled Eels (makes 8-10 young eels)


1/2 cup rice wine
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup sugar
2 garlic, grated
1 Tbsp grated ginger
8 small eels (about 1/2 kg or 1 lb), cleaned well (see instructions below on how to clean eels)


1) Cook the rice wine, soy sauce, sugar garlic and ginger for about 25-30 minutes or until thickened. Avoid letting sauce boil too rapidly. Once done let the sauce cool completely before using.
2) Use half of the marinade sauce and pour over the cleaned eels and let them marinade at least 4-6 hours or overnight.
3) May cut the eels in half if interested to fit your grill. Grill these for about 5-7 minutes total over low heat or until they are done.

*These char-grilled eels are great with hot steamed rice.

How to Clean Eels

However you purchase your eels, chances are they are not totally cleaned. The eels are easy to clean and all you need is a little time and effort. I would recommend you clean these well before eating since these have a lot of slime and odor if they are not properly prepared. After I bring these home I scrape the entire body for each of them well with a knife and remove any belly contents. I then massage each one (inside and outside) with about 1-2 cups of vinegar until all the slime is completely gone. I rinse all of them several times with clean water. After this I cut along both sides of the spine to fillet it. I keep the backbone in. These eels have one long spinal bone and this can easily be removed during eating. For some dishes you may want to keep the eel whole or cut in 6 inch strips. For other dishes you may want to cut it into rings.

partially cleaned eels from the market (in Vietnam)
these semi-clean eels from the market will need a
more thorough cleaning once home
(as you can see it's a bloody mess)
cleaned eels
these eels must be extremely clean before cooking

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