Last week, Boy the Elder ate himself sick. No really. He ate so much food over the course of a day at his father’s, that he spent the entire night vomiting and had to stay off school. Apparently he had simply grazed on anything that cast a shadow, including the ingestion of all the remaining roast potatoes (of which there were many) a mere half an hour after one of their father’s legendary Sunday Lunches.
When I rang his school to inform them as to why Boy the Elder was absent, I said merely that he would not be in due to a ‘surfeit of lampreys’ and his school is such that they understood immediately.
As I’m sure you know, Henry I of England died of “a surfeit of lampreys” according to the chronicler, Henry of Huntingdon. The lamprey is a type of eel which is much meatier than your average fish and was a very popular food for the rich in the middle ages. They have to be very thoroughly cleaned and gutted before cooking or they become toxic, which is probably what actually did for Henry. Interestingly the RAF made a lamprey pie for Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1953; I hope they weren’t trying to tell her something.
However, despite being used mostly as bait for fishing, lampreys and eels in general are a nutritious and filling food and should not be overlooked as a free food source. They are plentiful in many rivers and canals and can be caught with a rod and line or special traps. Here’s a recipe.
FRIED EELS for 4
2 x medium bowls
1 x chopping board
1 x large frying pan with a lid
2lbs / 1kg eels – washed and skinned
1 egg – beaten
flour for coating – seasoned with parsley, salt and pepper
1 oz / 30g butter (or just a good knob thereof)
Cut the eels into 2” / 5cm chunks
Coat the pieces in beaten egg then coat with the flour
Melt the butter in the frying pan until really hot but not burning brown
Fry the eels, turning gently once to seal them
Lower the heat, cover the pan and braise until the eels are tender
Serve with crust bread as eels are somewhat oily