Basket of freshly caught eel at the morning fish market in Marseille.
Greetings, sports fans! Today we're going to talk about fish. You salmon-eaters already know the word anadromous, right? A fish that hatches in fresh water, heads out to sea once it's mature, and returns to fresh water to spawn. Well, here's a new word: catadromous. That's the opposite: a fish that spawns in salt water but often lives in fresh water. What kind of animals are those, you ask? Eels.
Yup, they're like snakes. Conger, lamprey, moray, anago (or unagi), anguilla, they're transparent as juveniles, night-time predators as adults. Eels migrate inland, slithering across wetlands and feeding on smaller creatures until it's time to turn around and head back to salt water. Their blood is toxic but neutralized by cooking. The lamprey fished from estuaries in southwestern France is the basis for Lamproie à la bordelaise, sliced eel simmered with their blood and red wine. On the Mediterranean coast, congre is an essential element in bouillabaisse.
Greenpeace says many eel species are endangered and doesn't condone their use for food. But the eels of North America's Atlantic coast are okay. In fact, the New York Times had a terrific animation by Drew Christie over the weekend suggesting that eels should replace turkey as the centerpiece of our Thanksgiving dinner.
Not likely to happen in the near future. Aside from the yuk factor expressed by many squeamish diners, there's the fact that eels don't come with that essential feature of the Butterball turkey: a pop-up timer.