Anguilla allo Spiedo

Roast Eels with Pancetta and Bay Leaves

Lago di Trasimeno is Umbria’s largest lake, and this dish of fat eel steaks, wrapped in thin pancetta and skewered with bay leaves and roasted over a wood fire, is the best of the local fish specialities. If you like eels, then this has to be one of the best dishes in the world; if you don’t like eels, you haven’t even read this far. I have opted to cook this in a hot oven rather than on a barbecue because this seems more achievable.

A large eel is better for this dish than two small ones. The tail section and head can be discarded, leaving you with 500–600 g, approximately three steaks per person.

Ingredients

  • 800 g eel, skinned and cut into 12 × 3 cm steaks
  • 12 thin slices smoked pancetta (or streaky bacon)
  • 8 bay leaves, fresh if possible
  • salt and coarse black pepper
  • good olive oil

Method

Preheat the oven to its maximum. Soak 4 wooden skewers in water for an hour.

Wrap each eel steak in the pancetta around the dark blue membrane, then pin the pancetta with a skewer. Add a bay leaf, then another piece of wrapped eel. There should be 3 eel steaks and 2 bay leaves on each skewer. Salt lightly and more generously scatter with coarse black pepper.

Prepare a roasting tray with a rack in it. Lay the eel kebabs on this and roast for 25 minutes. It is important that the skewers are not too tightly packed as this inhibits the cooking; the pieces should be barely touching. You may if you wish brush the eels with olive oil halfway through cooking, but the eels are so fatty this is not necessary. If the bay leaves and pancetta start to scorch before the cooking time has elapsed, turn the oven down to 180°C/350°F/Gas 4 and loosely cover the kebabs with aluminium foil.

Serve with plain boiled potatoes which have been scattered with chopped parsley and butter.

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