You can know you like something, and then have an example that totally detonates your underwear. I’ve always liked smoked eel, but the Test Valley smoked eel from the New Forest Smokery (contact details below) is so staggeringly super I really wasn’t prepared for it. You should make strenuous efforts to get some whilst it’s in season.
Rather than just have eel on toast I’ll tell you a spiffing recipe that is the ultimate in nursery food for kids of all ages – I’m a kid of some age and I squeal with delight when I eat this. Smoked eel with bacon and mash is so good it would do any smart restaurant proud and has the advantage of being trivially simple to make. It also gives you ten minutes of wrist pounding when you make it, which people into narcissism may get a cheap thrill from.
250g of perversely good smoked eel fillets
200g of obscenely good dry cure bacon, back or streaky
4 large baking potatoes
150g butter – from Jersey cows, ideally
150ml decadently thick cream
Grated horseradish, chives, pepper and anything else I mention in the recipe
Enthusiastically prick the skin of the potatoes with a fork and sling in a 200°C oven for an hour and a half. Slice the potatoes in half, spoon out the contents into a pan placed over a low heat. Get mashing!
Once the potatoes are reasonably mashed start adding the butter, a little at a time, and mashing it thoroughly into the potatoes. Once all the the butter is incorporated then add the cream and mash/stir that in completely.
The mashing of butter and cream into baked potatoes is a serious job and needs to be done with vigour. It’ll take about ten minutes in total. The resultant smooth potato puree will glisten with dairy-fat goodness. Stick a lid on the pan and put it in the oven (which you turned off when you took the potatoes out) to keep warm.
Bacon comes next. If you are getting eel of Test quality you’ll need freaking triple-A bacon to compete. I recommend the dry-cure bacon from Beechcroft Direct – it’s the salamander’s shameful bits.
Fry the bacon up until the fat only just begins to go slightly crispy. With serious bacon you don’t want to carbonise it otherwise you are just wasting what could be a porking top-hole experience. Stick the bacon on a warm plate so it doesn’t go cold.
You’ll want the eel fillets in a total of 4-8 pieces for ease of sharing, so cut them up if you need to, then put all the pieces in the still-warm bacon pan for 30 seconds, turn them over and leave them for another 30 seconds. This is just to warm the eel and give it a lubricious coating of quality bacon fat.
Put put the eel on a plate, put bacon on top, stir a bum-load of freshly ground pepper into the mash and then spoon a helping of peppered-creamy-butter-potato onto each plate. Then you’re pretty much ready to go.
To finish this you’ll want a little spoonful of grated horseradish on the side of each plate and finely chop some chives on top of the the mash. I forgot to buy chives today – but I’ve got a good excuse! You can allow your diners to grind a further epic quantity of pepper onto the dish, but they probably won’t need too much salt.
There are few things as good as smoked eel with bacon and mash, even if you are not using ingredients of throbbing lewdness-quality as I have scored today. You’ll want to pop a bottle of dense but precise Grand Cru Chablis with this – best you’ve got. I would have opened some Fevre Bougros 2005 tonight but I’m feeling so quaquaversally unwell it really wouldn’t have helped. The engorged extreme of fabulous food has helped enormously.
The New Forest Smokery, River Cottage, Ashford Road, Fordingbridge, Hampshire, SP6 1BZ.
Telephone 023 8086 7508. Email [email protected]
Beechcroft Direct’s website is here – their dry-cure back bacon is cracking.