Ever tried baby eels?
No, neither have I – nor am I likely to at 600€ a kilo!
Once a common food in the north of Spain, and really quite cheap, the baby eel, or ‘angula’, became a highly appreciated delicacy over the course of the 20th century especially in the Basque Country. This marvellous creature which is born in the Sargossa Sea and crosses the Atlantic Ocean floor almost blind, wriggling on its belly, before entering in the estuaries of Western Europe to metamorphosise into its adult form, was fished almost to extinction. The price started to rocket and then in the 1990’s was given a further boost by Chinese interest in the baby eel as a means to farm mature eels.
Luckily you can get close to the real thing (or so they tell us, perhaps we’ll never know..) with the imitation baby eel – the ‘gula’. Thanks to the efforts of Gulas Aguiñaga, who had to travel to Japan and enlist the services of some of the Basque Country’s leading technical centres, you can at least get some idea of what this delicacy is all about. Made from Surimi – the Japanese fish paste which goes into crab-sticks – many people who’ve tried both say that it would be hard to tell the difference. They’re available in most supermarkets and really quite affordable.
Whether you have Gulas or are lucky enough to get your hands on the real thing the recipe is the same and, as with most good things, is very simple:
- Softly heat a copious amount of good olive oil in a clay dish (or frying pan) with some sliced garlic and one or two birdseye chillies, making sure that the garlic doesn’t fry – it shouldn’t even start to go brown.
- Add the eels and let them heat through
- Pick out the chillies & serve with bread
Kids love them – and they are also nice served warm over salad – the latter is probably forbidden by law if it’s the real thing you’re dealing with!