Obtaining fresh seafood on a holiday is always problematic, but I wanted to serve seafood for at least one of the courses of the Christmas menu anyway. I’ve done lobster in the past, which you can keep alive in your refrigerator. Then I thought of eel. In Italy eel is prepared for New Year’s eve to ward off evil, so it is traditional for the holiday season. When I saw live eel at the fishmonger’s, my problem was solved.
I kept the eel alive in the refrigerator for a few days, covered by a damp (not wet) towel. I kept them in the 0ºC/32ºF compartment, which made them very sluggish. Eel cannot be kept in water, unless the water is aerated, so this is an easier method. I checked on them every day to make sure they were still alive. And so we had fresh eel on Christmas day! Since eel combines well with celeriac, I thought that celeriac ravioli would combine nicely with a sauce of eel stewed in tomato sauce. I had prepared this a while ago and loved it.
The combination of the eel with the celeric ravioli was divine! The photo doesn’t do it justice, I wish there was a way to put the flavor of this dish in HTML so you could try it. Since that is not possible, the only way to go is to prepare this for yourself.
I have included photos of how I ‘dealt with’ the eel at the end of the post. If you are not into that kind of thing, I recommend to stop reading after the photo of the finished dish further below. I will provide due warning.
For 4 servings as primo piatto
500 grams (1.1 lbs) fresh eel, cleaned and skinned
1 can (400 grams/14 oz) peeled tomatoes
80 ml (1/3 cup) dry white wine
1 Tbsp minced fresh flat leaf parsley
1 sprig fresh basil
2 Tbsp olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the celeriac ravioli
1 celery stalk, minced
1/2 tsp celery seeds
4 Tbsp heavy cream
2 Tbsp butter
200 grams Italian 00 flour
salt and freshly ground white pepper
I decided to cook the celeriac sous-vide. Since my sous-vide cooker was already occupied with the lamb, I had to do this in a simple stock pot. I peeled and cubed the celeriac and vacuum sealed it with the celery seeds, minced celery stalk, butter, salt, and pepper.
I heated a large pot of water to between 85ºC/185ºF and 90ºC/195ºF and added the celeriac. I regulated the heat such that the temperature of the water stayed in that range and cooked the celeriac sous-vide in that stockpot for 90 minutes.
I pureed the celeriac in the food processor with the heavy cream. If needed the puree can be thickened in a saucepan over low heat.
I made pasta dough from the flour and eggs, rolled it out as thinly as possible and cut out circles. For special occasions I like to make mezzalune (half moon shaped ravioli) instead of the regular square ones.
My dad helped to fold the mezzalune, which were prepared right before they were cooked after we had the ham of lamb.
For the sauce I started by sweating the onion in the olive oil.
I seasoned the eel with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
I sauteed the eel briefly with the onion together with the parsley, and then deglazed the pan with the white wine.
I then added the pureed tomatoes…
I covered the pan but left the lid ajar and allowed the eel to simmer over low heat for 30 minutes.
I cooked the eel with the skin, as it is easier to remove than from raw eel.
So I took out the eel as soon as it was tender…
…and took this gratuitous eel shot.
Then I removed the skin and bones and returned the eel flesh to the sauce.
I stirred the eel until it had broken up just a little.
I cooked the celeriac mezzalune for just a few minutes in boiling salted water, then drained them and added them to the sauce.
I tossed the mezzalune with the sauce…
…and then I served them on warm plates, garnished with a bit of basil. We enjoyed this with a nice glass of Puligny-Montrachet, but a nice Italian white like a Greco di Tufo would also have worked.
This is where to leave if you don’t like to see how I handled those eels.
How to deal with live eels
Make sure the eel are sluggish because you have kept them in the coldest part of your refrigerator (or even in the freezer for 10 minutes).
Put them in the sink and sprinkle generously with salt. The salt helps to make them less slippery.
Chop off the head of the eel. You can also bash its head on a hard surface a few times first.
Just like a chicken, the eel may still move without its head.
Take a small sharp knife and insert it in the anus of the eel, which is on the belly side about half way.
Cut towards the head to open up its gut cavity. Do not cut too deeply, as that would only rupture the internal organs. You only need to upen up the gut cavity. Remove the internal organs from the gut cavity and discard them. Rinse the eel with cold water inside and out.
Now you can take off the skin using tongs. I decided to stew the eel with the skin still on, so I proceeded to cut the eel into pieces.
To remove the slime, I blanched the pieces of eel for 30 seconds in boiling water.
I then plunged the pieces of eel in cold water. The slime is now visible as a whitish layer.
The slime can now be scraped off with a knife and the eel is ready for stewing.
24 thoughts on “Celeriac Ravioli with Eel Tomato Sauce”
Stefan: Oh, my. Horrifying and delicious all at once. I cannot believe the ugly, scary live eels made such a gorgeous sauce! I appreciate the tutorial but am definitely NOT as brave as you. No live scary creatures for me. The dish really does look outstanding. How lovely that you and your dad cook together; that is something special, for sure. Best regards, Shanna
You could always have your fishmonger kill them for you.
Thank you… Yes, I will do that – when I can find a fishmonger with eel! We are land-locked at the moment, but moving in about a year. Hopefully to somewhere with fresh fish and semolina flour, at a minimum. A lovely New Year to you and yours. – Shanna
Frozen eel is also okay, that might be easier to find. Happy New Year to you and the Swedish pop band, too!
Haha. You made me laugh out loud! The Swedish Pop Band and I wish you a fabulous 2014… and a fantastic birthday to Kees.
This recipe is just perfect! You explained it so well! And I can see that you made really a thin hand-made pasta, like it has to be! Congrats! Cris
Thanks Cris. With the “machinetta” and the “planetaria” it is not so difficult to make thin pasta 🙂
yes, you’re right! The “macchinetta” here is called “Nonna Papera” (Grandma Duck) funny, isn’t it? Happy New Year!Cris
I knew about that, but I also noticed that not all Italians seem to know “nonna papera” and that is why I used “machinetta”. Buon anno!
I had no idea you could keep live eels that way. Fascinating!
They are pretty hardy…
love your eel tutorial and your cleaver hahahah! 🙂 I had no idea you could keep them alive in the fridge. I’ve only had eel at japanese restaurants but would really like to try your preparation, it does look and sound delicious!
Have you ever done your own fresh pasta?
yeah, a few times. Long pastas and ravioli.
I thought it’s something you’d enjoy, especially the ravioli.
This dish looks fantastic! Thanks for the guide about dealing live eels. Very helpful.
Thanks, and you’re welcome!
Stefan ~ this is the most interesting recipe as far as I am concerned that you have posted all year! A bit of work but want to try!! Absolutely love eels and could eat them every second day . . . I know I can get them fresh but not sure about alive? No, not squeamish, have ended many a poor eel life! Wow!!!! Now you have made me think!
Thanks, Eha, you are too kind as usual 😉 Eel is a bit like lobster in that it should be cooked as soon as possible after it has been killed.
Great walkthrough (or should that be squirm through?). The dish looks fantastic. I wholeheartedly approve of the gratuitous eel shot. too.
Thanks, Conor. I am glad that so far nobody seems to have been appalled by the eel shots at the end.
What a great dish! I give you credit, Stefan, for .. um .. “handling” the eels. Bless my fishmonger! Great idea, too, to make the ravioli filling using celeriac. When combined with the eel sauce, this must have been a very flavorful dish.