The eel is a fish that lives both in fresh and salty waters, depending on the phases of its life: it is born in the Sargasso Sea then, within two or three years, pushed by the Gulf Stream, it reaches the European rivers. In this phase, the eel is still in the transparent stage (that is, it lacks pigmentation) and is called "blind" not because it has no eyes, but because it is easily caught.
As the pigmentation is completed, the eel goes up the rivers and settles in lakes, lagoons, or swamps, where it remains until the age of sexual maturation (ie from 9 to 15 years). Then it returns to the sea of origin where its reproduction begins and where it then ends its life.
In Italy, the eels that we find on the market come mainly from national farms, concentrated in the Po delta: the small eels, captured and placed in tanks with fresh water, are fed with ad hoc feed so that they can grow more rapidly than in nature, and in 2-3 years are ready to be marketed.
It is when the eel returns to the sea that its flesh is delicious (in this period its skin is greenish brown on the back, while the belly is silvery). The freshly caught eel can be kept alive for a long time, as long as it is put in the water; but as soon as the fish dies, its flesh quickly deteriorates. For this reason, the eel should be bought alive, asking the fishmonger to kill it and, if desired, skin it and fillet it. Being a fatty fish, eel is well cooked on the grill, on skewers, roasted, fried, and marinated.
In all Italian regions, there is a particular recipe for cooking them (marinated, stewed, a scapece, in broth), but since it is a rather fatty fish, roast cooking is often preferred. The compact, tender and tasty pulp is also excellent in risotto. The price is affected by the size (the large ones cost more than the small ones) and rises during the holidays.
How to clean the eel
After making an incision on the head, grab a piece of skin with a towel or kitchen paper. Holding the eel steady, pull vigorously towards the tail. Be careful not to come into direct contact with blood and viscera which, before cooking, are irritating: to clean and fillet the fish use gloves.