Irish eel pie recipe transcribed from a rather special hand-written Fermanagh one from 1904 (‘Dreams & Recipes 1904 – 1914’ by Viola Dono 2nd edition 2015).
A century ago chefs and housewives loved to cook with locally caught fresh water eels. There are fond memories of how amazing these dishes tasted. Eel was so popular with table d’hôte diners that the Carlton hotel in Belleek, County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, kept a tank of live eels outside ready to cook up for the evening menu.
A writer in ‘The Irish Society Review’ September 24, 1904 mentioned Belleek in County Fermanagh, where this little hotel on the banks of the River Erne kept fresh live eels in a tank outside, ready for the chef to cook up for the evening menu. ‘I well remember once staying at the hotel at Belleek and asking the proprietor if he had any eels left in his tank, and whether he would let us have some for dinner. He at once went with me to catch the fish and it was cooked for the “table d’hote” dinner. When handed round the eels looked like filleted soles. Everybody partook of the dish and then looked up with curiosity to learn what it really was. Greatly amused, I said, “The fact is I asked for some Ballyshannon eels and here they are!” One of the gentlemen present, an angler from London, who evidently felt himself an authority, observed: “They are very good, but not as good as London eels.” I ventured to suggest that the London eel was only an Irish silver eel, three days old, instead of quite fresh, which was the fact.’
Eels are still hugely popular in many London and European restaurants, and are beginning to enjoy a resurgence in popularity in Ireland again.
One of the ingredients in this Eel Pie is Harvey’s Sauce, a popular condiment at the time this recipe was written. A recipe for homemade Harvey’s sauce is given below; be careful to make it well in advance though – it takes 2 weeks for the flavours to develop.
I’ve also included the recipe for mushroom ketchup, which is an ingredient in the Harvey’s sauce!
Photo © Christopher Elwell