Wild Gourmets

Pan-fried eels with rosemary oil recipe

We spent a fine day fishing for eel on the Severn estuary, underneath the Severn bridge.

By the time we reached the bridge, the Santana was close to running out of vegetable oil and we had no money to pay for the toll across the Severn.

Luckily we managed to barter an eel breakfast that I cooked for some local fishermen for the toll, though to this day I can't quite understand why they took pity on us. Thanks to the piping-hot, rosemary-scented eels, we were able to cross the Severn in one piece.

Eels in Britain have a sweeter flavour than those on the continent, where they have always been regarded as a great delicacy. Despite the decline of the old English dish eel pie, jellied eels are still available in parts of Britain, as are a few eel and pie-and-mash shops.

Eels are difficult and horrible to kill. In order to skin them easily you need to nail its head to a post, make small cuts to the skin around the neck and pull the skin away from the body with pliers. This process rules out the very simple method of killing them by chopping off their heads.

They come out of the water covered in a slime that coats your hands like a second skin and makes them impossible to grip. The first time I killed an eel I spent ages trying to get a grip on the poor creature, and then bashed him over the head totally unsuccessfully.

I felt like a yob and was close to tears as the animal moved around trying to escape from me. I managed to kill him quickly after that and have since found this much better method, which is easier for all concerned.

Put the eel in a big bucket and douse it in a generous sprinkling of salt. This kills it quickly and also gets rid of much of the slimy membrane. To clean it, put on a pair of rubber gloves, rub more salt all over the eel and rinse in cold water. It is now ready for cooking.

Feeds 3-4


  • 1 small eel, skinned and filleted
  • 3-4 tablespoons flour
  • Salt and pepper
  • 60ml extra virgin olive oil
  • Rosemary leaves stripped from 1 long branch
  • A splash of sherry vinegar
  • Maldon salt and pepper
  • Bread, to serve


How to cook pan-fried eels with rosemary oil

1. Cut the fillets of eel into 2cm pieces, season the flour with salt and pepper and toss the eel in the seasoned flour.

2. Heat the oil in a large frying pan over a high heat until it is shimmering and then throw in the rosemary leaves, standing back to avoid spitting oil.

3. Let the rosemary colour a little without burning and add the eel pieces. Stir-fry the eel for a few minutes, until the flesh turns from translucent to opaque, before adding a dash of sherry vinegar.

4. Pour out on to a plate and eat with hunks of bread.

The Wild Gourmets

The Wild Gourmets: Adventures in Food and Freedom by Guy Grieve, Thomasina Miers, published by Bloomsbury. RRP £20.


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