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Consider The Eel: A Natural And Gastronomic History

por Richard Schweid

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573355,466 (4.43)3
Journalist Richard Schweid first learned the strange facts of the freshwater eel's life from a fisherman in a small Spanish town just south of Valencia. "The eeler who explained the animal's life cycle to me did so as he served up an eel he had just taken from a trap, killed, cleaned, and cooked in olive oil in an earthenware dish," writes Schweid. "I ate it with a chunk of fresh, crusty bread. It was delicious. I was immediately fascinated." As this engaging culinary and natural history reveals, the humble eel is indeed an amazing creature. Every European and American eel begins its life in the Sargasso Sea--a vast, weedy stretch of deep Atlantic waters between Bermuda and the Azores. Larval eels drift for up to three years until they reach the rivers of North America or Europe, where they mature and live as long as two decades before returning to the Sargasso to mate and die. Eels have never been bred successfully in captivity. Consulting fisherfolk, cooks, and scientists, Schweid takes the reader on a global tour to reveal the economic and gastronomic importance of eel in places such as eastern North Carolina, Spain, Northern Ireland, England, and Japan. (While this rich yet mild-tasting fish has virtually disappeared from U.S. tables, over $2 billion worth of eel is still eagerly consumed in Europe and Asia each year.) The book also includes recipes, both historic and contemporary, for preparing eel.… (mais)
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I know, I know. Eels are icky. They're twisty and slimy and thoroughly unappealing. And yet, I couldn't put this book down. Schweid does for eels what Ellis did for Giant Squid or Kurlansky did for cod: take a maligned or little-known creature and show us the wonder to be found.

Did you know we're still not really sure how eels mate? Or that we wouldn't have a clue where they gave birth if someone hadn't accidentally found a tiny, translucent elver in the Sargasso Sea? It really blows me away that humanity has been interacting with eels for a good long time and we still have so many unanswered questions.

Scweid also introduces us to various people who have some connection to eels, either through their culture or their job (eel fishermen) or their fascination (eel scientist). He does an excellent job introducing us to these people and letting them tell their own stories.

On top of all this, Schweid gives a culinary history of eels, complete with recipes and his own culinary adventures in tracking the recipes down.

Who would have thought that the humble eel would prove so fascinating? ( )
  Mrs_McGreevy | Nov 17, 2016 |
Rather unusual for me to be reading a book on food, particularly seafood, and not be stimulated to cook and eat it. Ell, like gator-tail, chocolate-covered locust, dog, mealy-grub, and snake however are foods that I have decided not to eat again – once, maybe for some, twice - was enough.

However, it is fascinating animal and well worth the considering given to it by Schweid, a Barcelona ex-pat from Nashville, who savors the “rich, fish taste” of eel like a true European. Still largely unknown to science in all its habits, gestation, reproduction and even exactly how it selects it breeding and living grounds. Once chosen however; the eel settles “right in” growing and living in the same place for twenty, thirty or even (observed) 57 years. Then comes the long haul out, from fresh water to salt, to the middle of the Atlantic to breed – it is thought- in the Saragossa Sea, that mysterious Triangle off Bermuda. In order to perform the miracle of changing from a fresh-water fish to a pelagic the eel decides to stop eating, and its digestive tract atrophies! After breeding the offspring, having decided if they are Americans or Europeans, begin to swim back to those respective coasts, making a further triggered-decision not just of species, but of gender.

Americans no longer eat the eel, but the booming markets of Japan and North Europe are hard to satisfy, particularly – the old sad story – as pollution and over-fishing take the inevitable toll on the entire species. The smoked eel of northern Europe is celebrated throughout history and in all literature. There is a scene in Len Deighton’s Berlin Game where the hero orders schnapps after eating smoked-eel in a small Gasthaus up close to the “wall”. Merely, he insists as part of a long established German ritual, to wash the smell of eel off his fingers.

No, perhaps I will never eat eel again, but I now know much more about a fascinating animal from this well written intriguing book.
1 vote John_Vaughan | Aug 12, 2012 |
eels! i picked this book up with only a mild interest; when i put it down, i had developed a bona fide fascination with eels. an excellent read, engaging and informative, with historical, social, economic, biological and gastronomical context. ( )
  lindseynichols | Sep 6, 2007 |
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Much of the charm of Consider the Eel is that Richard Schweid imparts his freshly acquired knowledge in the words of those directly involved in the industry. . . . Those who fish for or deal in eels . . . are a secretive bunch, and it says much for Schweid's professionalism and underlying sympathy that he was able to extract so much colour and interest from the men and women he sought out.
 
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Journalist Richard Schweid first learned the strange facts of the freshwater eel's life from a fisherman in a small Spanish town just south of Valencia. "The eeler who explained the animal's life cycle to me did so as he served up an eel he had just taken from a trap, killed, cleaned, and cooked in olive oil in an earthenware dish," writes Schweid. "I ate it with a chunk of fresh, crusty bread. It was delicious. I was immediately fascinated." As this engaging culinary and natural history reveals, the humble eel is indeed an amazing creature. Every European and American eel begins its life in the Sargasso Sea--a vast, weedy stretch of deep Atlantic waters between Bermuda and the Azores. Larval eels drift for up to three years until they reach the rivers of North America or Europe, where they mature and live as long as two decades before returning to the Sargasso to mate and die. Eels have never been bred successfully in captivity. Consulting fisherfolk, cooks, and scientists, Schweid takes the reader on a global tour to reveal the economic and gastronomic importance of eel in places such as eastern North Carolina, Spain, Northern Ireland, England, and Japan. (While this rich yet mild-tasting fish has virtually disappeared from U.S. tables, over $2 billion worth of eel is still eagerly consumed in Europe and Asia each year.) The book also includes recipes, both historic and contemporary, for preparing eel.

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