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TOPICS INCLUDE: Skinning eel; References; Five-spice powder

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Letters to the Editor

Winter Volume: 1998 Issue: 5(4) page(s): 10

We print as many letters as space allows and do look forward to getting them. Some are edited for publication.

FRED of St. LOUIS asks:
Can you reply to two related questions? I love eel but can not locate any Chinese recipes for this wiggly creature; do you have some? And, I have difficulty in skinning and boning them; is there an easy way.
FRED: Please see Volume 5(3) on page 6 for recipes. As to technique, Shanghai vendors have a board with a nail to secure the tail end of this wiggly creature, then with cleaver, they chop off the head. It is illustated in the hard copy of this issue where a board has a nail though it at one end. The head of the eel get impaled on that nail. An ice pick works well, both hold the eel in place on the board. Then they use a cleaver and I use scissors to cut the skin all around just below the head. We both grab the skin and pull it off. The cleaver is used again to cut then remove the bone; here I use a pliers.

I am requesting a copy of the original references in Dorothy Duncan's article...(and then ends with) thank you for a particularly interesting issue.
Mr. MARUYAMA: Thank you and others for wanting to get more detail about this article. Some readers find things too technical and request more recipes or they will cancel their subscription, others appreciate the historical or technical aspects in various articles. We try to walk a fine line offering our readers the kind of information wanted. We appreciate requests, no matter their direction; they help us walk that fine line.

There are many discussions, written and oral, about use of five-spice powder, do you have a good recipe.
HELENA: Five-spice powder is a classic Chinese flavoring mixture of star anise, cloves, cinnamon, fennel, and fagara (Sichuan peppercorn). Of course, there are as many variations as there are people, some adding black pepper, others anise seeds, still others thyme, etc. What ever spices you use, a mortar and pestle is best or a clean coffee grinder dedicated to this one use, or a blender with the smallest jar and one that has a heavy duty motor. I use the mortar and pestle to almost pulverize mine and I do not need small jars for different aromatic spices I want to crush. I do not make too much at a time because the spices lose flavor over time; the more time, the more lost. As to an exact recipe, one tablespoon of star anise (pre-crumbled by placing in a paper bag and getting out one's aggressions with a hammer), and one tablespoon each of cinnamon bark, fennel seeds, cloves, and fagara. Grind them one at a time for better results, then mix and use. Five-spice powder can be purchased preground, should you not want to grind your own. I suggest half a teaspoon of the mixture for starters if you do grind your own, it results in a very tangy fragrant, slightly sweet aromatic mixture; and is stronger than the purchased products.

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