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As promised on the last post on eel conservation, a recipe for a dish that on no accounts must you make unless the elver (glass eel) population has reached at least somewhere close to their population size in days of yore.
An elverer on the River Severn
This is a recipe that I think I remember Keith Floyd cooking elvers still wriggling as he scooped them straight out of the River Severn in a pillowcase and tipping them straight into a hot frying pan. I’ve tried to find the clip on the web, but alas it is nowhere to be found. I did find, however a clip of Gordon Ramsay cooking freshly-caught elvers on the banks of the river. I should warn you that elvers are cooked live, so if you are at all squeamish you might not want to see the video:
Elvers in the Gloucester style is essentially scrambled eggs with elvers and it comes from Jane Grigson’s English Food and it is one recipe that I will probably never cook for my other blog Neil Cooks Grigson where I’m trying to cook every single recipe from the book. She points that back in the years of elver plenty, ‘several tons of elvers are caught between Sharpness and Tewkesbury on the Severn’. Also, interestingly, ‘elvers are the only fish fry which may be legally caught as food.’
Well that probably won’t be true for very long.
Jane’s recipe asks for 500g of elvers so if you are a little evil and know where to get them prepare to pay – they’ll cost you at least £100!
It must have been very exciting going down the banks of the river at night to see a huge dark swathe of elvers migrating upstream safe in the knowledge that there’ll be a delicious dinner in store.
500g (1 lb) elvers
8 rashers fat streaky bacon
A little bacon fat or lard
2 eggs, beaten
‘When you go to buy elvers, take along an old pillowcase so that the fishmonger can tip them straight into it.
‘At home, add a handful of kitchen salt to the elvers and swish them about, still in the pillowcase, in plenty of water. Squeeze them firmly to extract as much water as possible, then repeat the washing process again with some more salt. This gets rid of the sliminess. You may need to rinse them again and pick out any tiny twigs, leaves and pieces of grass.
‘To cook the dish, fry the bacon until crisp in a little bacon fat or lard. Remove it to a serving dish, and turn the levers into the bacon fat which remains in the pan. Stir them about for a few seconds until they become opaque, then mix in the beaten egg and cook for a few seconds longer. The important thing is not to cook for too long. Taste and add seasoning. Put the elvers on top of the bacon, and sprinkle with a little vinegar. Serve very hot.’
We we’ll just have to take her word for it, I suppose.
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15 responses to “Elvers in the Gloucester Style”
If they ever are around as they were in days of yore I hope you can get to try them. I only had them once, back in the 50s and it was like magic. Grandad quite simply leaned into the ditch behind his council old people’s bungalow and pulled out what looked like a bucket of water. He fried some incredibly fat bacon made from the pig he shared with his neighbour then used a sieve to fish out the almost invisible mass and dumped them in the pan where they turned solid and white in front of my infant eyes. It was like magic. Alas I can’t remember the taste but I do remember I had about four helpings!
Grandad was a big eel fan – mostly just skinned and fried in bacon fat, often without cutting them up so they twisted around in the pan as if they were alive, even though he’d beheaded them. He used to set an eel trap in the drain at the edge of the dyke. Most of the ditches and big drains where he taught me to fish and where we caught eels and dug clams are long filled in and gone as the fens are further drained.
That all sounds so nice. I hope the Fens don’t get drained anymore. Surely there is/will be public outrages eventually?
I am a big eel fan myself and would so like to try elvers, alas I don’t think the populations will return. However, if they crash to a point of no return we may as well eat them anyway!
That was one unbelievable meal …… Thank you, I fish on the river wye and there are loads of elvers in there this year ,,,,, hasn’t been many there for years – they say it happens in sycles
I really didn’t think that anyone would be able to cook it! Thanks for the comment
I had 10 kilo with one net the other night which was nice but now there are no buyers for them – I gave back over a kilo last night for re-stocking but all in all I think the wye fishermen gave back about 30kilo in one night for re-stocking ……… There are plenty of elvers out there -.-.-.
This all seems crazy! I would have thought you’d be making thousands during the elver season. Is there so much of a stimga surrounding them that people won’t buy them now?
If only I lived down the road- I would happily fill a pillowcase with them!
It seems that there are that many elvers this year all the buyers orders have been met….. They are trying to get more orders so fingers crossed, it’s between tides at the moment tho.
If you ever get any spare I’ll pop down!
Hi Gav – I’m replying to this message in the hope you might get it as an email! I’m looking to buy elver to eat next season if you still do (or know someone who does!) If you get this reply, please email me: firstname.lastname@example.org
This is my blog, but for some reason I can’t log in!
I would love to buy elver. I have strong memories of men walking the streets around Gloucester shouting out Elvers for sale. Unfortunately having moved away from Gloucester I find it near impossible to buy them. I have fond memories of eating them as a child with my grand father having cooked them.
I must say I thought it was a memory for everybody these days, but they are obviously doing alright! I think it’s the barriers in their way, like flood barriers, that are the main problem in some areas.
Thanks for the message!
my dad went out Elvering years ago..He always asks for elvers to eat ,when we take him out.Well today has come and a friend has caught some and gave me some for my dad.just checking how to cook them.
Jackie! I am so jealous! I’ve never had them and would love to cook with them. LEt me know how you get on…
You need to wash extremely well. Then heat up a fry pan with a small bit of fat. Take an egg and whisk up and then put in the pan. Throw the elvers in immediately and stir the egg into the cooking elvers. When the elvers go white they are cooked. Serve on a plate with bread and butter, salt pepper and vinegar.
Its over thirty two years since I’ve had a feed. Will I ever eat them again in my lifetime?
I think so, Sue. The conservation efforts of those elver fishermen are already paying massive dividends.
I reckon 5 or 6 years tops