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Consider The Eel: A Natural And Gastronomic History Paperback – January 6, 2004

4.8 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

While Spanish, German, Irish, Portuguese, Italian, Chinese and especially Japanese people place Anguillae well above salmon in their cuisines, Americans, by and large, consider eels to be bait. Thus, North American estuaries have the best remaining migratory wild eel populations; that fact provides a good foundation for a light science travelogue shuttling back and forth between eel capitals on both sides of the Atlantic. Schweid (The Cockroach Papers) tries to fill in the gaps in the eel's astonishing natural history and tie that to sketches of fishery traditions, folklore, literary excerpts and reportage (beware the natural history that includes this many ingredients), mostly by focusing on the erratic transatlantic economy that eel supply (here) and demand (there) creates. Schweid visits five of the traditional eeling waters in Europe, but mostly he's concerned with recording the yarns of North Carolina's Outer Banks eel-fishing culture, where small-scale U.S. "eelers" operating inshore catch and ship tons of wriggling eels to Europe and Japan. Schweid is searching hard for a handle on his slimy, reclusive subject, but even science is not much help: the migratory Atlantic genus has been so resistant to study that even strong commercial imperatives (immature eels have fetched $500 a pound) have not yielded a true eel aquaculture. An overview of such an enigmatic creature that ranges over a huge ocean and inshore ecology is all that can be expected from this slim book; still, anyone with a curiosity about the sea will find Schweid's taste of the eel strangely appealing.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

A coveted food in Japan and a readily consumed item in Europe, the eel has all but disappeared from American tables in homes and restaurants. Yet it is still fished here and sold to Europeans and Japanese. Journalist Schweid (Catfish and the Delta) helps us realize what a strange and fascinating little fish the eel is. It breeds in the Sargasso Sea, a stretch of Atlantic waters between Bermuda and the Azores; the young then migrate to freshwater creeks and rivers, where they may live for years before migrating back to the Sargasso Sea to mate. This migration pattern, the opposite of that of salmon, is shared only with the mullet, and how eels navigate the distances remains a mystery. They are picky eaters, have a sense of smell equal to that of dogs, and appear to be a barometer of pollution levels in water systems. In addition, eels are the only farmed fish that we have been unsuccessful in coaxing to reproduce in captivity. Schweid writes with clarity and enthusiasm, combining elementary biology with recipes from England, Europe, and America, historical notes on fishing and cooking, and present-day interviews with fishers and others. Unlike Mark Kurlansky's expansive Cod, this title's narrow scope (it reads like an extended magazine article) limits its appeal to large public libraries and fishery collections. Michael D. Cramer, Schwarz BioSciences, Research Triangle Park, NC
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 200 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press; New edition edition (January 8, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0306813319
  • ISBN-13: 978-0306813313
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.5 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,161,717 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on April 10, 2002
Format: Hardcover
If you are an American, it is unlikely that you have ever eaten eel. You are more likely to have eaten eel if you are a European, and if you are Japanese, you may well eat it regularly. It is hard to figure out just why Americans now have an aversion to eating eels and other countries do not, especially since eels are part of our Pilgrim heritage, they were enjoyed by our founding fathers, and they formed an important commercial catch earlier in the last century. It�s all very mysterious, but if you read _Consider the Eel_ (University of North Carolina Press) by Richard Schweid, you will quickly realize that almost everything connected to eels is mysterious indeed. It isn�t just that humans deal with eels in peculiar ways; the fish itself is full of paradoxes and unsolved questions.
Schweid�s topic is the Atlantic eels of two species, the European and the American. These eels reproduce in the open sea, and early development of the young takes place there, but they drift to different fresh water sources to feed and grow to adult sizes, over a period of up to twenty years. (This is opposite to the life cycle of the salmon.) Then they stop eating forever and head to sea, changing their eyes to adapt to ocean dark, and changing body chemistry to put up with salt water and the change of water pressure. It was only in 1924 that a Danish researcher found eel larvae in the Sargasso sea, the huge area of the Atlantic Ocean between Bermuda and the Azores. All the Atlantic eels go there to mate, and then they die, but no adults have ever been seen swimming there; the only two eels found there had been eaten by other fish. We can only guess at what they are up to deep below the surface. The larvae look like little oval leaves.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Rather unusual for me to be reading a book on food, particularly seafood, and not be stimulated to cook and eat it. Ell, like gator-tail, chocolate-covered locust, dog, mealy-grub, and snake however are foods that I have decided not to eat again - once, maybe for some, twice - was enough.

However, it is fascinating animal and well worth the considering given to it by Schweid, a Barcelona ex-pat from Nashville, who savors the "rich, fish taste" of eel like a true European. Still largely unknown to science in all its habits, gestation, reproduction and even exactly how it selects it breeding and living grounds. Once chosen however; the eel settles "right in" growing and living in the same place for twenty, thirty or even (observed) 57 years. Then comes the long haul out, from fresh water to salt, to the middle of the Atlantic to breed - it is thought- in the Saragossa Sea, that mysterious Triangle off Bermuda. In order to perform the miracle of changing from a fresh-water fish to a pelagic the eel decides to stop eating, and its digestive tract atrophies! After breeding the offspring, having decided if they are Americans or Europeans, begin to swim back to those respective coasts, making a further triggered-decision not just of species, but of gender.

Americans no longer eat the eel, but the booming markets of Japan and North Europe are hard to satisfy, particularly - the old sad story - as pollution and over-fishing take the inevitable toll on the entire species. The smoked eel of northern Europe is celebrated throughout history and in all literature. There is a scene in Len Deighton's Berlin Game where the hero orders schnapps after eating smoked-eel in a small Gasthaus up close to the "wall". Merely, he insists as part of a long German ritual, to wash the smell of eel off his fingers.

No, perhaps I will never eat eel again, but I now know much more about a fascinating animal from this well written intriguing book.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
What could possibly be fascinating about eels? They're gross, slimy, snake-looking fish, right? Wrong. This well-written book will enthrall you with the curious history of this strange fish; not just its life cycle, though that is intriguing as well, but also the freshwater eel's relation to Man throughout the ages. There are some recipes included in the back for good measure, provided you ever get your hands on some eel. This book is not just a dry factbook about a seemingly unappealing fish, but rather an enlightening guide to how this humble creature has managed to slither onto the tables and into the hearts of many a culture throughout human history. (Furthermore, the hardback copy looks really nice sitting on your shelf; a pretty dark-tan color with black lettering in a nice font. That is, without the dust jacket on. The jacket looks nice too. Very pretty little book.)
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Format: Hardcover
Sure eels are slimy and weird, but that doesn't mean you can't learn to love them!
Read this book and instead of retching at the thought of a mouthfull of broiled eel, you'll find yourself smacking your lips (at least I did).
Overall, this book seems well researched. It's well written and an overall fun read. Like an eel, it's sluggish some times. But page after page it remains fascinating.
Buy it.
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