Eel is a traditional part of a seafood-centric Christmas Eve dinner (La Vigilia di Natale) in many parts of Italy, particularly in the southern Italian town of Naples, and often makes an appearance as part of the Italian-American "Feast of the Seven Fishes" as well. According to religious tradition, it was forbidden to eat meat on this night, leading to elaborate feasts featuring many types of fish and seafood.
It can be prepared roasted, grilled, or fried. This recipe covers grilling and frying, while the recipe for Roast Eel (Capitone Arrosto), another traditional Italian Christmas Eve dish, is also on this site.
Eel meat is oilier than that of many other fish, and is consequently ideally suited to the grill, though it also fries well.
- For Grilled Eel:
- 2 1/2 pounds (1 kg) eel
- 3 cloves garlic
- Dash of fine sea salt, to taste
- Dash of freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 2 tablespoons olive oil (plus more for basting)
- 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
- 1/2 bay leaf (per piece of eel)
- For Fried Eel:
- All of the above plus: all-purpose flour, vegetable oil for frying
Cut the eel into pieces about 3 inches (7 cm) long, rinse them with running water, and dry them well. Crush the garlic cloves slightly with the flat side of a chef's knife, peel them, and cut them in half crosswise. Rub the surfaces of each piece of fish with the cut side of the garlic cloves.
To Make Grilled Eel:
- Arrange the pieces on metal grilling skewers, alternating each piece with a bay leaf half.
- Season the skewers with salt, pepper, and drizzles of the olive oil and vinegar. Let them sit to marinate for at least 1 hour.
- Grill the pieces over a medium flame for about 30 minutes, turning them frequently and basting them with additional olive oil.
To Make Fried Eel:
- Season the pieces with salt, pepper, and drizzles of the olive oil and vinegar and dot them with small pieces of bay leaf.
- Let them sit to marinate for at least 1 hour.
- Dredge the fish in flour, shaking gently to remove any excess flour, and fry the pieces in moderately hot oil, being careful not to crowd the pieces, until they are crisp and golden-brown on the outside.
- Drain them well on absorbent paper and season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Serve with fresh lemon wedges.
Suggested wine pairings: A Greco di Tufo white wine from the Campania region, or any other crisp, dry white wine.