eel smoked over cabernet

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eel smoked over cabernetThis dish began with a young cook-gardener who brought me an old Cabernet barrel and wondered what we might do with it. We played around with smoking eel over the barrel and found that the process imparted the wine flavor beautifully. We pair the eel with an equally fatty tongue and finish with other elements of the grape: barely dried raisins, a mustard made from the grape must of the previous year, and a vinegar made from the red wine itself.

  • Yield: 4 Servings


  • 3 .5 kilograms | about 3 ½ quarts ice water
  • 450 grams | 2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
  • 450 grams | 1 ⅔ cups kosher salt
  • 4 grams | 2 teaspoons white peppercorns
  • 7 grams | 2 teaspoons juniper berries
  • 30 grams | about 5 cloves garlic
  • 2 | bay leaves
  • 10 grams | 2 tablespoons thyme leaves
  • 36 grams | 2 tablespoons tinted curing mix #1
  • 2 | Wagyu beef tongues
  • extra virgin grapeseed oil
  • 10 | muscat grapes
  • 300 grams | 1 ¼ cups Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 75 grams | ¼ cup light corn syrup
  • 1 | whole saltwater eel
  • 1 kilogram | 3 ⅓ cups kosher salt
  • 500 grams | 2 ¼ cups firmly packed brown sugar
  • 12 grams | 2 tablespoons ground dried red grape must
  • 6 grams | 1 tablespoon five-spice powder
  • extra virgin grapeseed oil
How to Make It
  1. FOR THE WAGYU BEEF TONGUE: Pour 2.5 kilograms (about 10 cups) of the ice water into a large container. Heat the remaining 1 kilogram (about 4 cups) water in a saucepan over high heat. Add the brown sugar, salt, peppercorns, juniper, garlic, bay leaves, and thyme and heat, stirring, until the salt and sugar dissolve. Remove from the heat and pour into the container holding the ice water. Add the tinted curing mix and beef tongues, cover, and refrigerate for 5 days.
  2. Remove the tongues from the brine and rinse under cool running water for 30 seconds. Put each tongue in a vacuum bag and seal on high. Cook the tongues in a hot-water bath at 155°F (68°C) for 24 hours. Remove the bags from the bath and immerse them in a large bowl of room-temperature water for 20 minutes, then transfer them to an ice bath for 3 hours. Line a dehydrator tray with a silicone baking mat. Remove the tongues from the bags, reserving the liquid that was created during cooking, and peel away the skin. Using an electric slicer, thinly shave 1 tongue lengthwise into a fine julienne. Arrange the slices on the tray and dehydrate at 110°F (43°C) for 8 hours, until dry and crispy. Store in an airtight container at room temperature. Cut the remaining tongue into small dice, mix with a little grapeseed oil, and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
  3. FOR THE FRESH RAISINS: Peel the grapes. Line a dehydrator tray with a silicone baking mat and arrange the grapes on the mat. Dehydrate at 125°F (52°C) for 16 hours, until tacky and reduced to about half of their original size. Meanwhile, combine the red wine and corn syrup in a small saucepan over medium heat and cook for about 30 minutes, until reduced by about 80 percent. Let the syrup cool to room temperature, then immerse the dried grapes in the syrup and hold at room temperature until needed.
  4. FOR THE SALTWATER EEL: Remove the fillets from the eel by tracing around the perimeter of the fillets and inserting a knife into the tail of the eel. With the knife perpendicular to the body of the eel, slowly slice the fillets from the spine moving from the tail to the head. Be aware that many of the bones will be left behind and are thin enough to eat, but to ensure that the bones don’t jeopardize the texture of the eel, score a crosshatch pattern on the skin side of each fillet to promote good texture and optimum smoke absorption. In a large bowl, combine the salt, sugar, grape must, and five-spice powder. Bury the eel fillets in the cure in a plastic container and refrigerate for 45 minutes. Rinse the fillets under running ice-cold water and pat dry on paper towels. Cut each fillet in half crosswise to yield 4 portions total. Hot smoke the fillets at 135°F (57°C) for 30 minutes. Remove the fillets from the smoker, submerge in grapeseed oil, and let cool in the refrigerator until needed.
  5. FOR THE VIOLET MUSTARD: Combine the grape must, port, malt vinegar, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and mustard seeds in a small saucepan over low heat. Bring to a simmer and simmer for 2 hours, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is reduced by about half. Meanwhile, prepare an ice bath. When the must mixture is ready, transfer to a blender and mix on high speed for about 3 minutes, until a smooth puree forms. Strain the puree through a chinois into a bowl, then nest the bowl in the ice bath to cool the puree. Taste and adjust the seasoning with sugar and kosher salt if needed. Transfer the mustard to a squeeze bottle and reserve in the refrigerator.
  6. FOR THE RED WINE VINAIGRETTE: Combine the tongue cooking liquid, wine, and vinegar in a saucepan over low heat. Cook for about 20 minutes, until reduced by about half and slightly thickened. Meanwhile, prepare an ice bath. Strain the liquid through a chinois into a bowl, then nest the bowl in the ice bath to cool the vinaigrette. Transfer to a squeeze bottle.

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