I first wrote about jellied eels back in 2007, when we had a look at Tubby Isaac's famous East End eel stall. I've still got mixed feelings about jellied eels. I want to like 'em, and I'm almost at the point of becoming an aficinado, but if the truth be told, given half the chance I would sooner plump for a decent oyster on the shell, or a lovely cut of smoked eel with horseradish sauce.
Back in the good old days of muffin men and dancing chimney sweeps, eels were the staple diet of the London poor. The Thames Estuary is full of the critters, and as the Thames is now so much cleaner than it was say, forty years ago, eels are coming back in force.
I suspect the best way to enjoy jellied eels is to cook them yourself. A few months ago, I had a bowl of jellied eels as a first course (from memory, I think it was at Jack's Place in Battersea); and I don't remember them being especially good (not that I want to denigrate Jack's in any way; a splendid institution and long may it thrive!).
I've trawled through several very old-fashioned Mrs Beeton type cook-books on your behalf, and come up with a definitive recipe:
First, catch some eels. Chop them into 2 inch thick pieces, and plunge them into a large pan of boiling water with a generous dash of sea salt. Take them off the boil, and let them stand for five minutes.
Next, take a pan or dish, and throw in the eels. Pour in a pint of water (so that the eels are covered), and add three tablespoons of malt vinegar, a squeeze of lemon juice, some thinly sliced onions, carrots and celery, a bayleaf, a few peppercorns, sea salt, chopped parsley, and nutmeg.
Bring to the boil, reduce and simmer for twenty minutes, until the eels are tender. Remove the cooked eels and place them in a deep serving dish or bowl. Strain the 'liquor' over the eels, and when cool, bung it into the 'fridge. Eels are naturally gelatinous, so the liquid should set. If it doesn't, be prepared to add some liquid gelatine to the mix. According to one book, the chopped parsley gives "the jelly the traditional hint of green, like the sea". What a nice idea.
Serve the jellied eels with chili vinegar.