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Richmond Eel


Eel fillets in a very rich gravy, with nutmeg, parsley and sherry, either as a soup, stew or in a pie.

The River Thames at Richmond
Image: http://www.rambertschool.org.uk

Although eels were formerly caught in considerable numbers in the River Thames around Richmond, Eel Pie Island there probably takes its name from a corruption of the older 'Ayte', just meaning 'island'. It formerly had more than one pub with a remarkable record of hosting rising musical talents including The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Rod Stewart, Kenny Ball and George Melly.

Original Receipt from the 'Cheltenham Chronicle' - Saturday 15 December 1894

Richmond Eel Pie.ó Skin, draw, and cleanse two good sized eels, trim off the fins, and cut them pieces three inches long. Put them into a stewpan with two ounces of butter, some chopped mushrooms, parsley, and very little shallot, nutmeg, pepper, and salt, two glasses of sherry, one of Harvey sauce, and barely enough water to cover the surface the Set them on the fire, and as soon as they 'come to the boil, remove them and place them in a pie dish. the sauce add two ounces of butter blended with the same quantity of flour, and stir it over the fire to thicken. Add the juice of lemon, and pour the over the eel in the pie dish. Place some hard-boiled eggs on the top, and cover all with a good puff paste, ornament the top, egg it over, and bake for about an hour. Serve either hot or cold.

Original Receipt in Francatelli 1846;

Fillet three Thames eels and cut the fillets into small scollops place these in circular order in a large saucepan containing about four ounces of clarified butter season with cayenne pepper salt lemon juice and chopped parsley set the covered saucepan on the stove fire to simmer gently for about twenty minutes then add two glasses of Sherry, after which let it boil sharply for a few minutes longer. Put the collops of eels thus prepared into the soup tureen with three dozen tails of crayfish, and instantly pour over these a soup sauce previously prepared according to the following directions; Cut into shreds or dice carrot celery parsley roots one shalot and half a pottle of mushrooms, Put these into a stewpan with a sprig of thyme a small bayleaf a little sweet basil, a few peppercorns, and one blade of mace. Fry these ingredients with four ounces of butter until they begin to be of a light brown colour then throw in the bones and trimmings of the eels, three dozen bruised crayfish, and a pint of Chablis wine. Allow this to boil briskly on the fire for five minutes, then add three pints of blond of veal and after it has boiled gently by the side of the stove fire for three quarters of an hour, strain the stock through a tammy cloth with considerable pressure in order to extract all the goodness from the vegetables &c.
Put the broth thus prepared into a stewpan and having thickened it with some white roux to the consistency of a thin sauce, work it according to the method observed for all sauces. Observe that as this sauce is for soup it should be lighter in substance. Finish with a leason of eight yolks of egg and season accordingly and mix in with it a spoonful of chopped and blanched parsley.

From 'This is Local London News' Friday 13 July 2007, by Lisa Williams;

Chef Dave Wickenden skinning an eel
Image: http://www.thisislocallondon.co.uk

And itís bye bye to eel pie
Richmond eel pie has been declared Britain's rarest dish by a Sainsbury's survey, which found that only 2 per cent of people questioned had tried the fishy dish with a local tale.
Not to be confused with jellied eels or pie and mash with eel liquor, Richmond eel pie is a dish cooked with cream and parsley. It used to take advantage of the River Thames' plentiful yield of the serpentine creatures.
In fact, in the past Kingstonians would flock once a year to the river's edge with nets and buckets for the Eel Fare, when an unsuspecting shoal of eels would swim by.
But not only have the whims of fashion robbed Henry VIII's favourite dish of its crown, but eels themselves have become increasingly scarce.
The Environment Agency has restricted the places where eels can be caught in this country, and soon will cut the number of eel fishing licences it grants each year.
The threat to the species comes from recent overfishing, which has seen the sale of large amounts of the slippery fish to Asian countries, where eels are a popular delicacy.
So as it comes under threat, the Surrey Comet decided to take Richmond eel pie for a final voyage.
Dave Wickenden at Tryst on the Green restaurant in Thames Ditton had never cooked eel before, but with a bit of help from the [former] British Food Trust website he whipped up a couple of the dying delicacies to see whether it was to the taste of the modern palate.
He said: "Eel did go out of fashion, but it is becoming popular once again as chefs are beginning to use more challenging ingredients.
"Any chef can make a decent meal from a perfect fillet steak. But making something good from eel or animal intestine is where the talent lies."
The preparation involves hooking the fish from the ceiling, skinning it and pulling out the backbone.
It is then chopped and mixed with sherry, hard-boiled egg, parsley, nutmeg and cream, before being baked in a case of puff pastry.
Mr Wickenden's end result was served steaming and golden to some restaurant diners and members of the public, who after recoiling in horror at the thought of eating eel, were all bar none pleased with what they tried.
But the reviving of a tradition comes at a cost. With dwindling stocks the price of an eel has risen sharply to an average of £30 per fish.
Mr Wickenden said: "We couldn't even think of putting it on the menu. With all the other ingredients and the work that goes into the preparation, we would have to charge about £18 for a slice of the pie, and that would be before we include garnish or side dishes."

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