Eel in Tomato Sauce (Anguilla in Umido)

Eel is caught locally in the area where we live and we love smoked eel. Eel is also available fresh to be used for stewing, but I don’t care much for the Dutch/Flemish preparations. My curiosity was piqued though when I saw a post by ChgoJohn on eel stewed in tomato sauce Italian style (or to be more precise, in the style of Le Marche). I did some research and it turned out that this dish is known as Anguilla in Umido in most of Italy, and that it originated in Campania, the region of Naples. Anguilla in Umido is traditionally eaten between Christmas and New Year’s as a symbol to drive out the evil for the New Year. Eel looks like a serpent, and by eating it you conquer it. How simple was life back then.

So why am I preparing this dish in summer? Because fresh eel is available around here between May and October only, that’s why. And this year because of the cold, I only noticed eel at my fishmonger for the first time last week. It was very expensive (because eel is starting to become scarce), but I’m glad I bought it anyway because prepared this way it was absolutely delicious! The eel gives off a very nice flavor to the tomato sauce, the eel is tender and juicy without tasting too greasy, and the flavor of the eel is not at all overpowered by the tomato sauce.

The recipe is very simple as long as you leave the job of cleaning and skinning the eel to your fishmonger. Some Italian recipes I saw insist on cooking the eel with the skin, but it is a hassle to remove and it was great like this.  ChgoJohn, thanks for inspiring me to prepare this! Here’s my version.


For 4 servings

400 grams (.9 lbs) cleaned and skinned eel, cut into 8 cm (3″) pieces (or more if you can afford it)

1 can (400 grams/14 oz) peeled tomatoes, or fresh tomatoes, peeled, when in season

80 ml (1/3 cup) dry white wine

1 onion, thinly sliced

2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 Tbsp minced fresh flat leaf parsley

1 sprig basil

salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 slices (Italian) white bread, lightly brushed with extra virgin olive oil and toasted


Heat a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil in a frying pan or Dutch oven. Add the sliced onion and cook over low heat until the onion is soft and golden, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, wash the eel in cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper on all sides.

Increase the heat and add another tablespoon of olive oil. Add the eel and the parsley and sauté gently until the eel is slightly cooked on all sides (about 2 minutes).

Add the white wine, and gently stir to get any bits off the bottom of the pan. Cook over medium heat until half of the wine has evaporated.

Add the tomatoes, whizzed in the food processor.

Add the sprig of basil and bring to a boil.

Lower the heat to a simmer. Allow the eel to simmer over low heat, partially covered, for about 30 minutes.

Check whether the eel is tender. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Remove the basil.

Put a slice of toasted bread on each plate.

Put the eel on top of the bread, followed by the sauce. Make sure you serve all of the sauce, because it is delicious. If you like you can garnish with a bit of parsley or basil.

Wine pairing

A Greco di Tufo or Fiano di Avellino would be very suitable for this, as they are full-bodied whites from Campania. Other full-bodied whites from Italy will also pair nicely with this dish.

14 thoughts on “Eel in Tomato Sauce (Anguilla in Umido)

  1. I have never seen eel here in LA at a super market, and I sometimes go to the santa monica fish market and don’t remember seeing any either, but they do sell them at the Japanese store near my house but only in tiny precut bits sashimi style. Your dish looks delicious, I should investigate more. am sure they sell it somewhere!


  2. What a delightful post! Not sure whether I can access fresh eel here but shall do my utmost!!! Estonia being my birth country, was kind’of brought up on smoked eel and absolutely love it. Have cooked it in a similar manner to you, but your way is so simple and obviously tasty! [Hmm, should not mention it, but Belgium and the Netherlands seem to sell ‘green eels’ early in the season: well ate those at THE premier restaurant in Brussels on the Grand Place, and guess what . . . important restaurant or not, take care with seafood!! Three days in bed was not a happy experience . . . !]


  3. I remember you said you would like to try our recipe when I posted it last Christmas. Zia will be thrilled and impressed to know that you liked t and blogged the family recipe. 🙂
    Thanks for the mention, Stefan.


  4. Caught an eel this morning while striped bass fishing near my home here in Nova Scotia. It now sits in the refrigerator, cleaned, skinned and cut into 2 inch sections. In one hour, I’ ll start your recipe, Stefan… looking forward to accolades from family at dinner tonight!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This is the closest to the dish my aunt use to make over 60 years ago for our Christmas Eve dinner. in her honour, I added some prunes and raisins to the sauce.

    Liked by 1 person

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