Friday, 13 October 2006

Enough To Make You Squirm

Fred Cooke's eel & pie shop in Broadway Market, HackneyToday in college we had a delivery of six live eels for a butchery demonstration. The European eel is a very beautiful creature which moves very much like a snake, with elegance and grace. The eel is in fact not related at all to the water snake, but is an order of fish.

A little known fact is that the blood of the eel is extremely poisonous. It is sufficiently toxic to kill a mouse instantly and it can cause severe breathing problems and temporary blindness in humans. For this reason one must be very careful when preparing eel in the kitchen.

Where I live in the East End of London, there is a famous tradition of eating jellied eels with pie and mash. The photo shows Fred Cooke's eel and pie shop in my local Broadway Market. During the decades before the Second World War eels were common, cheap and easily transportable, making them a favourite in the area around the Thames estuary, where they were caught. During the war they were harder to find and their popularity eventually dwindled. Only recently has there been something of a renaissance.

Unfortunately, the skin of the eel is very difficult to remove once the creature is dead, unless it's smoked, so the eel must be skinned while it's still alive. I know this may seem to be quite an inhumane method, but let me assure you the eels are always rendered unconscious beforehand.

Live eels at college today

During today's live demonstration, our chief butchery lecturer showed the class how to prepare the eels - from stunning to skinning, filleting and portioning.

I wanted to take the rare opportunity to show you this extraordinary process, which you will have probably never seen before and most likely won't ever get a chance to see again. I filmed the demo on my mobile phone, so the picture quality is not brilliant. However I'm sure you'll be amazed by what you see. I'll edit, upload and post the video as soon as possible. But be warned... it's not for the squeamish


Voodoo said...

Can't wait to see the video. Forgive me for being a dumb American but what the hell is pie and mash? 8-}

aarshi said...

pie and mash is yum.

the only eels i've seen are in aquariums. :) but they look long, slithery and slimy... so they should be good to eat, too.

waiting for the video. :)

Trig said...

Voodoo said...

Forgive me for being a dumb American but what the hell is pie and mash?

Pie and mash is a traditional English meal first served as long ago as the Civil War. It's a baked pastry pie stuffed with chopped meat or fish scraps and bits of leftover vegetables, served with mashed potato and a gravy traditionally made with ale.

Very high in calories, so the kind of meal only to be consumed by those engaged in heavy manual work or otherwise doing a lot of exercise.

More information on pie & mash here:


Anonymous said...

my name is frederick george cooke.....i am the great granson of Fred Cooke who created/invented pie and mash in the late 19th century. i worked in the family business until 1994 when the original shop in dalston closed down,, it is now a chinese restaurant.

Mike said...

I am Trig's father and I'm interested to know where the original shop was, having lived in Dalston for 20 years. I'm puzzled because my research suggests one shop in Hoxton Street and one in Balls Pond Road. And I have no idea who runs the one in Broadway Market which still sells pies today and bears the famous F. Cooke sign, reproduced in several local art shops.

Anonymous said...

I live in Broadway Market which is where F Cooke Pie & Mash Shop is and I can confirm that the Pie & Mash served there is the best in the world!

Trig said...

I've never actually eaten in there myself, to be honest I'm not a huge fan of eel. I'll send my dad down there to try it, I guess I'll have to take his word for it. I'll be sure to let you know...

Geoff said...

F.Cooke's pie & mash shop was in Kingsland road, just North of the Balls Pond road junction.
Cooke's at Broadway market is run by F.Cooke's grandson - Robert Cooke.
As far as I know, Ale was never used in the gravy for the pies.
Geoff (one of the M.Manze clan)

Trig said...

Thanks for this information, Geoff. My dad told me that the original shop was somewhere near where the railway station is now, but it was before my time I'm afraid.

Janet said...

I born and raised in Kingsland Road Dalston from 1948. Cooks Pie & Mash shop was fantastic. I would be sent to buy eels to take home, and they'd often squirm out of the shopping bag en route back to my house. The pies had minced beef in them, a delicious yet rubbery pastry on the outside and and were almost oblong if I remember rightly. The gravy was called liquor - it was made with parsley in it (no ale). A meal of pie and mash cost one shilling. "Old Mrs Cook" worked her heart out in there. I've got very fond memories of it.

Trig said...

Janet - thanks a lot for sharing your recollections with me and my readers. My dad would have been born just a few months after you, but lived in Grays Inn Road a few miles away. I lived just off Kingsland Road almost all my life until I moved to Spain to train. Did you see my college eel-skinning video? It's here, if you have the stomach to watch the amateurish demonstration. Wishing you all the best.

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