Friday, July 31, 2015

Anguille, Anguille d'Europe – the European Freshwater Eel in French Cuisine.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman
Updated August 2021

A freshwater eel.
The European Freshwater Eel.  

Anguille, Anguille d'Europe, Angèle or Pibales  –  The European eel, the Common eel, or the River eel. Eels are a traditional and popular dish all over Europe and no less so in France. Eels will be on the menus of the best French restaurants served on or off the bone, sautéed, baked, grilled, and smoked. Eels are also part of many French freshwater fish stews or prepared as an eel stew where they star on their own. Only Japan has more eel recipes. In the UK and parts of North America eels are prepared with traditional recipes but rarely seen there in top-of-the-line restaurants. Eels will be grilled, braised, or smoked to remove most of their natural fat. The eel has a pleasant but different flavor to fish with slightly flaky meat.          

The European eel on French menus:


Matelote d'Anguille –  A freshwater eel stew; a very popular and traditional dish. Most eel stews are made with red wine and are best accompanied by red wine. Other matelotes may be on the menu; they will freshwater fish stews; they may include brochet, pike;  perche, freshwater perch; tanche, tench; sandre, zander or pike-perch; and freshwater eels. 


Matelote d'Anguille

Photograph courtesy of CuisineAZ


Anguilles du Marais sur le Grill  Grilled eels from the marshes. This offering was on a menu in a restaurant close to the city of Angoulême. Angoulême is in the department of Charente, just twenty minutes away from the town of Cognac. The locals consider the Angouleme marsh eels to be the best. Restaurants offering these marsh eels are sure to put their provenance on the menu. The French word marais means marsh and the large and historic area of Paris called Le Marais was once marshland. (Many UK visitors will remember the name Angouleme from their schooldays. Countess Isabella of Angoulême (1188 -1246) was the Queen Consort and the second wife of King John of England).


Friture d'Anguilles du Lac de Grand-Lieu en Persillade - A fry-up of eels. These eels are from the Grand Lieu Lake to the South- West of the city of Nantes. Deep-fried eel is very popular, here it will have been cut into small pieces. The persillade is a flavoring of  parsley and garlic.


Grilled eel on a bed of spinach

Photograph courtesy of Laurel F


Anguille Fumée, Moutarde Verte, Chou-Fleur, Câpres,  Verjus Smoked eels, green mustardcauliflower, capers and verjus. (Green mustard is usually a Dijon-style mustard colored with the juice of a green vegetable or herb).


Smoked Eels with Yuzu Hollandaise.
Yuzu is a member of the citrus family that originated in China. The fruit is very popular in Japan and it has a taste somewhere between that of a grapefruit and an orange.
Many French chefs have adopted this fruit for its unique taste.
Photograph courtesy of Charles Haynes


Smoked eels that have been cured, not cooked, by smoking. Foods have been smoked by humans throughout history. Originally this was done as a preservative, but in more recent times fish, and eels, were readily preserved by refrigeration and freezing and so the smoking is generally done for the unique taste and flavor imparted by the smoking process. Cold and hot smoking produce very different flavors and textures.

Smoked eels of French menus:

Duo de Saumons Marinés et Fumés, Anguille Fumée – A matched serving of marinated salmon,  smoked salmon and smoked eel. An excellent contrast in tastes and textures.


Anguille Croustillante, Sabayon de Vinaigre de Cidre et Carottes au Gingembre - Crisply prepared eel served with a French take on the Italian dish of zabaglione prepared with cider vinegar. The connection to the Italian dish of zabaglione may seem dubious, but the sauce will still be tasty. Adding to the color and flavors are carrots and ginger.

Photograph courtesy of Julien Menichini


Anguille aux Cèpes – Eel served with France’s Porcini mushrooms. This will usually be fried eel.


Pressé de foie gras aux cèpes et anguille fumée à la vinaigrette de noisette - Pieces of foie gras, fattened duck's liver,  pressed together with French porcini mushrooms, smoked eel, and a vinaigrette made with hazelnut oil.

Photograph courtesy of Trip Advisor



 Anguille Fumée, Escortée d'Asperges Vertes - Smoked eel served with green asparagus.


 Anguille à la Broche - Eels, grilled on skewers; traditionally, that would be grilled over charcoal.


Pibales en Friture – A simple and very popular Basque recipe for deep-fried elvers.  To the fried elvers are added the Basque Espelette peppers.


Elvers - baby eels.

Alevins, Alevins d'Anguille, Gulas, Civelle or Pibale - Baby eels; elvers in English and pibale in Basque. A large elver is 5- 6 cm (2”) long. In season, in France, and elsewhere in Europe, elvers used to be very popular deep-fried fast food. Visitors could join the locals and walk down the street holding paper cones, snacking on deep-fried baby eels. However, elvers have been over-fished, and prices have sky-rocketed. With high prices, any baby eels on the menu will mostly be in upscale restaurants.

The French elver season begins when the baby eels begin to enter the rivers from the sea from the end of November-December or December-January. Elvers may be on the menu at other times, but after those dates that usually means they are frozen.

Elvers are caught at the mouth of rivers when trying to reach the river from where their parents came. Eels mate and are spawn in the Sargasso Sea and why and what happens when they get there and meet the American eels with whom they do not inter-breed remains a mystery.  The Sargasso Sea, located entirely within the Atlantic Ocean, is the only sea without a land boundary.

The reason for a possible international eel conspiracy taking place in the Sargasso Sea may be discussed at length over a hearty eel stew. Eel stew, with adult eels, is at its best when accompanied by a bottle of red wine.

European Elvers
Photograph courtesy of Sustainable Eel Group, (Photo credit ©Peter Walker)       

Jellied Eels

Cold jellied eels, are a traditional English dish that began in London’s East end about two-hundred years ago. There still remain, in London, a few specialist restaurants, that continue to serve eel pie and jellied eels made with the original recipes.

Eels in the languages of France’s neighbors:

(Catalan -anguila), (Dutch - aal ), (German – all, Europäischer aal), (Italian- anguilla, anghilla), (Spanish- änguila), (Latin - anguilla anguilla).


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Bryan G. Newman
Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2015, 2017, 2021
For information on the unpublished book behind this blog write to Bryan Newman
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