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  • Writer's pictureJamie

What Do Jellied Eels Have To Do With Pie And Mash?

When it comes to event catering for private events, corporate conferences, birthdays or weddings, the best options are fiercely local, unashamedly authentic and immediately stand out from the crowd.

This is why a black cab converted to provide one of Cockney London’s greatest dishes has become such a big hit on film sets, in convention centres and even on television.

Whilst Cockney pie and mash is a classic dish, it does have a rather unique connection to another, far more unusual delicacy that for centuries was served alongside the pie, mashed potato and liquor.

However, the connections between these two dishes go much further than being served on the same plate.

Jelly, Stock And Parsley

Historically, European eels swam in the River Thames and even as the early industrial revolution started to pollute the river, the eels were still a staple food for many people on the poorer East End.

They were typically sold jellied, where they were chopped into rounds and boiled in a fish stock made from water, vinegar, nutmeg, lemon juice and the eel’s own juices before cooling to create a jelly that the dish is served in.

Once they were on the table, a pot of water that the eels had been stewed in was left behind, filled with flavour, and what a lot of pie and mash shops would do is use this eel stock alongside flour and parsley to create the iconic liquor sauce that makes pie and mash so special.

The reason for this is that it was cheap, far cheaper than using milk as you would in a typical parsley sauce, and in an age before fish stock cubes were available, it was the best way to make the most of everything available.

Because of this, pie and mash became the ultimate working-class food. It was easy to carry, filled with affordable, highly nutritious ingredients and would waste as little as was absolutely possible.

However, eventually, there would be changes and this would also affect pie and mash in a lot of the existing stalls, shops, carts and taxis.

What Happened To The Eels?

As can sometimes happen, a staple food can go from being exceptionally plentiful to critically endangered given enough time, and unfortunately, jellied eels became just such a delicacy.

Part of the issue is that the European eel itself, previously plentiful in the Thames, decreased in numbers considerably and quite rapidly.

The Thames Estuary was so polluted that the species was considered biologically dead by the 1960s, and whilst the waters have improved dramatically, the eel population in the Thames fell by 98 per cent in just five years between 2005 and 2010.

This has meant that a lot of eels need to be imported from continental Europe, turning them from a staple and very cheap food into a surprisingly expensive delicacy.

This has had a consequential effect on the pie and mash traditionally sold with it, with dedicated stock used to make liquor rather than the eel water, although the traditional mix of flavours remains.

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