Eels in Red Wine with Prunes

The firm flesh of the eel is a rare treat. This sauce, thick and plummy from the prunes, is at first glance an unlikely partner to fish, but it works with the positive flavour of the eel to give a rich succulent stew.

Eels are usually brought into the restaurant live to ensure freshness – they deteriorate very quickly when dead. To deal with a live eel, grasp it firmly behind the head with a piece of kitchen paper or a clean tea towel. Then, using a sharp knife, decapitate it swiftly and gut it. If you buy eel ready prepared from the fishmonger, use it straight away.

Ingredients

  • 900 g/2 lb fresh eels, gutted
  • 16 pickling onions
  • 50 g/2 oz butter
  • 2 thick rashers of green streaky bacon, cut into strips
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 600 ml/1 pint fruity red wine
  • 1 bouquet garni
  • 16 prunes
  • salt
  • freshly ground black pepper

Method

Cut the eels into 5 cm/2 inch lengths. Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and drop in the eel pieces. Blanch for 1 minute, and drain well. Leave to cool, then remove the skin.

Pour boiling water over the onions and leave for 30 seconds. Drain and run them under the cold tap, then peel. Dry on kitchen paper. Melt the butter in a pan and brown the onions with the bacon. Sprinkle the flour over the onions, and stir for 1 minute. Gradually add the wine, stirring until smooth, and then the bouquet garni. Bring to the boil and add the prunes, and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for 30 minutes.

Add the pieces of eel to the pan. Cover and cook very gently, barely even simmering, for 15–20 minutes, until the eel is tender. Taste and adjust seasonings. Remove the bouquet garni before serving. Serve with croutons fried in olive oil.

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