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Pulborough Eels, Sussex

More British food legends

Of a score of good things found outside heaven
The land of Sussex was granted seven
The choicest of those I often feel
Is the oily, glutinous Pulborough eel
So begins the anonymous rhyme extolling the culinary virtues of Sussex , citing the Pulborough eel above trout and even lobster. The location of Pulborough offers distinct advantages for freshwater fishing, with the rivers Arun and Rother meeting just to the south west of the town. The Arun is famed for its fast flow, keeping the waters there clean and healthy for fish.
Eel sadly is little loved in Britain these days, with the exception of the East End perhaps, though the Dutch and the Spanish love it and prepare the glutinous flesh in many delectable ways.
The traditional method for preparing Pulborough eel was to make a steamed pudding with it, like that great British favourite Steak and Kidney pudding. The suet pastry case is filled with the skinned and boned eel flesh (you don’t want to include eel skin, it was used for joining flails at one time, such is its toughness), hard-boiled eggs cut into quarters, salt pork or bacon cut into large dice, and some onion, perhaps a finely diced carrot if one is to hand, and stock made from the eel trimmings or straight from the stockpot. A bit of parsley or a bayleaf to add extra flavour, and a touch of seasoning, then pop the lid on and steam for at least two hours, and up to four if time allows.
The eel has a magical effect on the stock if stewed correctly, imparting a wonderful gloopy consistency, though the more fastidious might not enjoy it – but then they would be eating lobster rather than eel wouldn’t they?

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