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  • Claudia Romeo: We're in London, England,

  • and today we're going to see how jellied eels are made.

  • If you think that fish and chips

  • is the most traditional fish dish

  • that you can get here in London, think again.

  • Jellied eels and London have a history

  • that is hundreds of years old,

  • going back to the times where the eel population

  • was thriving in the River Thames.

  • Nowadays, there are not as many eels as there were

  • in the past, but the dish has stood the test of time.

  • Let's go see how it's made.

  • In their glory days, jellied eels were so popular

  • that in the East End of London,

  • competition among vendors was tough.

  • Today, jellied eels can be found all over the UK,

  • at summer kiosks and racecourses,

  • but there are only a handful of merchants

  • who actually make them, all based in London.

  • One of these is Barneys, an East End institution

  • run by Mark Button, by his father, Eddie, before him,

  • and now Mark's son has even gotten involved.

  • Despite the challenges,

  • Mark believes that jellied eels are far from being

  • on the verge of disappearing.

  • Mark Button: The eel has become harder to get.

  • We used to have eels every day.

  • From Whitstable and Southend-on-Sea,

  • they used to come up to London.

  • Literally, 1,000 kilos a day would come into London

  • of fresh Thames eels, Thames Estuary eels.

  • But they're no longer there. They disappeared.

  • The price of eels today are dearer than salmon.

  • When my father took over the business in the 1960s,

  • the man that sold him the business said,

  • "I don't think there's much left of it.

  • See what you can do."

  • And that was in 1965,

  • which I know is 55 years ago 'cause that's when I was born.

  • 55 years later, we're still going on.

  • We're now at the third generation in the business.

  • Claudia: The first step to making jellied eels

  • is to clean the fish, take the guts out,

  • and cut the eels into portions.

  • Mark: These are the eels.

  • I mean, they start off as live eels last night,

  • but we have them stunned so they are ready to work.

  • Otherwise, if they were to move,

  • the boys couldn't work on them.

  • It would be too dangerous. Claudia: Oh, I see.

  • Mark: They use very sharp knives.

  • They're fantastic to work on.

  • Otherwise, you'd never handle them.

  • If it's a live eel, if you picked them up,

  • you'd be chasing them around the room.

  • Claudia: Is it easier to clean than a normal fish?

  • Mark: Well, these guys have been doing it for many years,

  • so they find it easy.

  • But even if you put a man who worked with normal fish,

  • flat fish, on this job, they would find it very hard.

  • It's a different shape fish, it's a different bone,

  • it's the different pressures you put on the...

  • you'll see Simon, at the end there,

  • he uses a lot of strength in his arms and wrists.

  • [Simon and Claudia laughing]

  • To push it through. Claudia: Oh, right, yeah.

  • So, they have different knives, actually.

  • Mark: Yeah, this is a filleting knife,

  • and the guys here are cutting using cutting knives.

  • Claudia: Oh, I see here.

  • Mark: Every cut, there's hundreds

  • and hundreds of cuts per day.

  • Claudia: So they have to be sharp.

  • Mark: So they have to be very sharp.

  • And they have to concentrate,

  • because you don't want to lose a digit.

  • Claudia: Yeah, yeah, yeah, definitely. [laughs]

  • Yeah, the finger is very close.

  • I've read that the eels only have one bone.

  • Mark: With the jelly process, we leave the bone in,

  • and the customer eats around the bone.

  • Claudia: OK. So, the part that you eat,

  • is it just the beginning?

  • Or you also eat the tail?

  • Mark: The flatter part is no good.

  • So the pieces would start here,

  • so from behind the gill

  • going back right the way through.

  • So when you gut these,

  • these pieces when they're cooked will be open,

  • and these pieces when they're cooked will be round.

  • Which you'll see.

  • I'll show you the difference. Claudia: Oh, all right.

  • So you know where they come from?

  • Mark: Some people, they call these the horseshoe pieces.

  • So it looks like a horseshoe, which is open.

  • That's where they fully remove that belly.

  • Claudia: And you leave the skin as well.

  • Mark: Leave the skin on.

  • Claudia: And where do they come from?

  • They don't come from the Thames, right?

  • Mark: No, we haven't had any English eels

  • for many years now.

  • We get eels from Holland,

  • and also we get wild eels

  • from Northern Ireland, from Lough Neagh.

  • With this time of year,

  • because they've taken on a winter coat,

  • they've been feeding well

  • and they're storing body fat,

  • so they're very good high fat content,

  • which gives the eel a chance to migrate

  • on a 6,000-, 7,000-mile journey,

  • and they'll lose weight as they're swimming.

  • But when they're a summer eel

  • and they've been eating a lot of food

  • but they're not absorbing it,

  • the meat will be thinner, but it will eat softer

  • because they're not storing it.

  • So they're not storing the fuel.

  • Claudia: So this one will have more body?

  • Like, it will be more meaty.

  • Mark: More meaty, yeah.

  • At the moment, we're processing about

  • 300 kilos a day.

  • Claudia: Once all the eels have been cut in portions,

  • we move to this other room,

  • where they will be boiled in herb-infused water.

  • Mark: So, we flavor the water with a bouquet garni,

  • which is mainly parsley and pimentos.

  • Which has got the --

  • Claudia: Yeah, I can smell it.

  • Mark: You smell the aroma?

  • [Claudia laughs]

  • Claudia: And so the bag is never opened?

  • It stays closed in there just to flavor the water?

  • Mark: Just to flavor the water,

  • then we remove that and the water's flavored,

  • and we add the eels to it.

  • Depending on the nature of the eel,

  • this time of year, they take a bit longer to cook.

  • About 45, 50 minutes.

  • Claudia: Oh, that's a long time.

  • Mark: Yeah, in the summer months,

  • it could be 30 minutes 'cause the eel is softer,

  • 'cause it's a summer eel.

  • I explained about the winter coat.

  • They take a bit longer to cook

  • to compensate, to make the flesh softer.

  • So, we're slowly seeing the eels cook.

  • The sediment is on the eel, and that will be taken off.

  • And the fat is coming to the top as well.

  • Like anything else, you're skimming the fat off

  • and leave the juice clear for being decanted into the bowls.

  • Claudia: It smells already, like, herby.

  • Mark: You can smell the parsley in the air.

  • It's because we now have got four pots on, the aroma here,

  • I mean, we haven't got smelly vision yet,

  • but the aroma is quite pleasant.

  • Claudia: Yeah, yeah.

  • Yeah, it doesn't smell like,

  • I don't know, when you're doing a fish soup.

  • No, not at all.

  • It smells very fresh, like the parsley, as you said.

  • Mark: That's right, you can smell the herbs.

  • Claudia: Yeah, yeah.

  • And will you add any more ingredients, or that is that?

  • Mark: No, the only thing that Simon will add to this

  • is salt.

  • Claudia: Salt?

  • Mark: Yeah. A bit nearer the end process

  • rather than in the beginning.

  • Claudia: Wait, so how about the jelly?

  • So you don't add any gelatine?

  • Mark: Yeah, we use a gelatine granule.

  • Because of the commercial volume,

  • and setting them, and traveling, and shelf life,

  • we have to use a granulated gelatine.

  • Claudia: OK. 'Cause I read that

  • the fish itself releases some --

  • Mark: If you were to cook one eel on its own,

  • put it in the fridge overnight

  • in the water you cooked it in, it would jellify.

  • But not to the point of sending it to Leigh-on-Sea,

  • or Clacton, or Scotland,

  • or Edinburgh. Claudia: Yeah, of course.

  • Mark: We've got to have a shelf life now.

  • So the gelatine powder suspends it with the salt

  • and gives it a good shelf life.

  • Claudia: Our jellied-eel bowls are ready,

  • and they will now rest for about a day.

  • Overnight, the gelatine will set,

  • and the eels will slowly float to the top.

  • Mark: So, here we have yesterday's production,

  • which are now jellied eels.

  • They come in a bowl like this.

  • We're ready for the main label.

  • We've all the data on

  • which we've followed through on production.

  • Claudia: And here they are.

  • Mark: It's a sealed lid, 'cause we put them on hot.

  • Claudia: Oh!

  • Mark: And that is the --

  • Claudia: Nice wiggle.

  • Mark: Finished product there.

  • Claudia: How many pieces of eels are there?

  • Mark: It's approximately 90 pieces.

  • Claudia: OK. Mark: Approximately.

  • It's done by visual.

  • Over the years, the person doing it

  • gets a good eye to what's in there.

  • If the eels are cut slightly bigger,

  • there'll be slightly less pieces.

  • These are a good winter eel.

  • There should be a good 85 to 90 pieces.

  • Jellied eels.

  • So, this is the finished product.

  • Claudia: And that's it. Now it's nice and solid.

  • Mark: So now you've got the solid gelatine texture.

  • A consumer would take the pieces out,

  • and now you got the jelly.

  • Claudia: Ooh. So, normally do you eat it like this?

  • Mark: Most people would eat it, I mean,

  • we've just taken this out of the fridge,

  • so it's gonna be extremely cold.

  • Claudia: Cool. Mark: But it's better

  • when the jelly becomes a little bit

  • more room temperature, but not too floppy.

  • But eating-wise, that's the piece of eel.

  • Claudia: Wow!

  • And that's the bone there, huh?

  • Mark: That's the bone that's left.

  • You've got the saltiness in the jelly,

  • and you've got the texture of the fish.

  • If you wanted to try it,

  • there's a clean spoon there. Claudia: Yes.

  • Mark: It does get a bit messy with the gelatine.

  • I'll leave you with that.

  • Claudia: All right.

  • Which one should I have?

  • Should I have the one

  • that's open? Mark: They're all good.

  • Claudia: Or the one from the back?

  • Mark: The open piece is good.

  • Claudia: This one?

  • Oh, there's a lot of gelatine.

  • Mark: You can knock some of the jelly off.

  • Some people don't always like the flavor.

  • I mean, it's cold.

  • As I said, it's just coming straight out of the fridge,

  • so it's cold.

  • Claudia: All right, let me get the bone.

  • All right.

  • It's good. Mark: Yes?

  • Claudia: I don't mind the jelly.

  • I actually like it.

  • Mark: The saltiness in the jelly.

  • Claudia: Yeah, I like the saltiness of the jelly