It’s extremely important to make sure you have a well-cleaned eel before you begin cooking. You can do this yourself, or ask your butcher to prepare the eel for you. Just the same as preparing any protein that requires cleaning, be sure to use proper knife skills to prevent any injuries.
Eel, once quietly secluded in its wheelhouse of Asian cooking, is now emerging as a popular fish delicacy in forms of all kinds. In the states, chefs are using freshwater eel more and more in recipes because of its highly delicate meat and delicious salty flavor. Although it can be fried or sautéd, eel cooked in the smoker is our favorite. The rich taste of the meat is deliciously flavored with smoke, and pairing this with the fresh flavors of lemon and herbs will have you rethinking your favorite smoked fish dinner.
How to prepare eel for smoking
For whole smoked eel
Use a coarse salt to strip away the natural slime and scales on the skin. Carefully run your knife along the bottom of the eel from its head to about 4 inches before the end of the tail to gently open the eel. Remove all insides of the eel, being particularly sure to remove the blood line.
For eel filets
Use a coarse salt to strip away the natural slime and scales on the skin. Insert knife just behind the head on one side of the eel. Use one hand to hold top of fillet, and begin horizontally slicing eel, working from the head to the tail. Lay fillet aside and repeat on the other side of the eel. There will be small pin bones, but they will become tender while smoking. Cut fillets into smaller pieces for desired size.
Make Smoked Eel
Step 1: Brine. Prepare a brine of water, salt, lemon, and fresh herbs to help flavor the eel. Let it rest overnight in the fridge. The next day, remove from the brine and rinse to remove excess salt before smoking.
Step 2: Preheat smoker. Set the smoker to 185 degrees and place soaked wood chips in smoking wood box. We suggest using a smoking wood flavor of mild taste, like apple or alder.
Step 3: Smoke eel. Eel will only take about 90 minutes to cook. You’ll know it’s done when the skin begins to lightly crisp and flake away from the actual meat of the eel. The meat should be moist but flaky, as well.
Because eel is so thin, it will smoke very quickly. For this reason, try to keep the temperature of the smoker low and steady.
If your smoker has the ability to hang meats, tie a string around the head of the eel and hang the whole eel vertically. If your smoker isn’t set up this way, lay while eels (belly up) or fillets on a rack on a baking sheet. This will help smoke to reach all sides of the eel equally.