Spring onion and leek broth with smoked eel
In south-west Victoria, where I grew up, there is evidence of this country’s early forms of aquaculture practised on Gunditjmara land in the form of elaborate eel traps and runs believed to have been developed up to 8000 years ago. This sight has since been submitted for UNESCO classification under World Heritage convention.
Farming our native shortfin eel is still in practice where the elvers are captured in estuaries before being transferred into tanks to feed and bring to condition.
Eel isn’t our most popular protein but it is often available as a smoked product that can be treated much the same as bacon. It also produces the best bones and skin for making a really fragrant and rich stock.
Despite the name, spring onions are generally available all year, but the flourish of alliums in spring presents so many different varieties to use.
When garlic throws its flowering body in its early form, it is picked and known as a “scape”. This part of the garlic is very tender and sweet and lends itself to be eaten as a vegetable. It is particularly tasty when stir-fried or grilled. I love using the scape in soups.
This recipe is a bit of a play on potato and leek soup but with eel instead of bacon. It can also be made richer by increasing the amount of potato used.
- 1 smoked eel
- 1200ml water
- 2 leeks
- 100g floury white potatoes (peeled and sliced)
- 6 spring onions
- 4 garlic scapes
- 1 lemon
- To fillet the eel, follow the same technique you would with a flat fish such as whiting or trout. The tail half of the fillet will not have any bones, but the top section will have bones in the rib structure. Cut that part out and divide into four 100-gram portions.
- Retain the bones and skin and cut them up roughly before combining them in a pot with the water.
- Cut the leek into three sections across then wash thoroughly.
- Place the centre section in the pot with the eel bones and skin, then bring to the boil before lowering the temperature and skimming the impurities that will float to the surface. Keep this stock simmering for a further 20 minutes before straining.
- Place the base of the leek into the strained stock and bring up to a simmer for 10 minutes before adding the base of the spring onions. Cook for a further three minutes then remove the leek and the onion and divide them between your four serving bowls.
- Add the potato and half of the leek tops with the spring onion tops and garlic scapes and bring to the boil for five minutes until the potato breaks down. Transfer to an upright blender and puree before passing the broth through a fine strainer and reserving the liquid.
- Warm the eel portions using either a blowtorch or quickly under a grill. The aim is to just gently warm the fat on the surface, not to cook it further, as they have gone through a cooking process when being smoked.
- Place the eel on the onions in the serving bowls, then season the broth with lemon juice and salt as required before pouring it over the top.
- Serve with bread.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on November 17, 2018 as "Ain’t nothing like the eel thing".
For almost a decade, The Saturday Paper has published Australia’s leading writers and thinkers. We have pursued stories that are ignored elsewhere, covering them with sensitivity and depth. We have done this on refugee policy, on government integrity, on robo-debt, on aged care, on climate change, on the pandemic.
All our journalism is fiercely independent. It relies on the support of readers. By subscribing to The Saturday Paper, you are ensuring that we can continue to produce essential, issue-defining coverage, to dig out stories that take time, to doggedly hold to account politicians and the political class.
There are very few titles that have the freedom and the space to produce journalism like this. In a country with a concentration of media ownership unlike anything else in the world, it is vitally important. Your subscription helps make it possible.
Select your digital subscription