Eel pie

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Fish pies were popular medieval dishes. This one is originally from 15th century France. The modern version and photo comes to us by way of Lady Lucia d’Enzinas of the SCA.

Original instructions, from A Newe Boke of Olde Cookery:

With that, Fish Pies: to instruct the person who will be doing this job–because not everyone is a master of it–he should get his fish, that is, good bellies of tuna, good big filets of carp, good big fresh eels–and of all that he should get the quantity that is needed for the number of pies that he is ordered to make; take all of it and cut it into good-sized pieces and set it to cook in a good clean cauldron appropriate in size for the amount you have; when it is cooked, take it out onto fine tables which are good and clean, and cull through all your fish to remove any scales or bones, then chop it up well. Get good candied figs, prunes and dates and slice these up small, to the size of small dice; get pinenuts and have them cleaned thoroughly and get candied raisins and clean them well so there are no seeds left; of all of this take an amount proper for the amount of the fish filling you are making, wash it well in white wine, then mix it

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in with your fish in a fine pan. Then get another pan which is good and clean in which you will clarify good fine oil; when it is clarified put enough of that oil into your filling for that amount of it, then set it on hot coals to heat up, and stir it continuously with a good spoon. Then get good spice powder and put in a reasonable amount of it, and a lot of sugar. Then order your pastry cook to make large or small pie shells for you, and they should be covered.

–Terence Scully, ed. and trans. Chiquart’s “On Cookery”: A Fifteenth-century Savoyard Culinary Treatise. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc, 1986.

Eel Pie

What you’ll need

Pastry dough for one deep dish pie pan, or two shallow
1 pound (450 g) eel (two packages)
About 2 cups (500 mL) chopped figs and chopped dates
1/4 cup (75 mL) pine nuts
About 2 tbsp (30 mL) oil
1 tsp (5 mL) powdered ginger (or more)
1/2 tsp (2 mL) each black pepper and cloves (or more)

What you’ll do

Preheat oven to 350°.

When doing reconnaissance for recipes like eel pie the first thing you ask yourself is ‘this looks like this will taste good’ or possibly ‘you dare me to make what?’. The the second thing you ask your self is ‘where do I get eel?’ I live in a large city. I have a vibrant China town, in which I was able to get swamp eel in the frozen section of a local merchant.

One thing I learned about eels when researching this dish is that ‘jellied eels’ is a traditional British dish you can make without adding any gelatin. Eels are naturally gelatinous. This fact alone almost made me abandon the eel pie in favor of making toast, and having a good lie down.

I thawed my catch-of-the-day and popped two packages of its slimy goodness into pot of water and boiled it for about 15 minutes.

After the jelly was melted away by hot water, and the eel cooled, I selected a section of the eel to skin and de-bone. Due to a colorful childhood I know how to de-bone and de-scale the typical fish, but I thought eel was going to be a big challenge. After giggling about the turgid texture of the eel, vaguely reminiscent of the steamier bits of a romance novel, I was able to pull the skin away using gentle pressure, and I was able to remove the spine from the flaky fish just by running my finger along the spine. There were no tiny bones to struggle with.

My two packages of eel came out to 1lb exactly. This fish was mixed with the dry fruit, nuts, spices and oil in a sauce pan until warmed through. The hot mixture is then placed in a

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pie shell, toped with more pastry, and then baked for 35 minutes, or until the pastry is browned.

Serves 10 hungry adventurous people or 20 cautious but curious people.

Original recipe from http://www.godecookery.com/nboke/nboke60.html

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