Preparations

Fresh Eels. Fresh eels are cooked in several ways, such as braising and steaming. Steaming, however, is the more popular method. In both Taiwan and Mainland China, eel is either steamed with various vegetables and mushrooms or stewed with Chinese herbs, such as medlar, lovage, and dates. This herb-filled soup is considered as a revitalizing tonic soup for frail or disabled persons.

Smoked Eels. After the eels' are cut, they are brined in a saltwater solution, then hot smoked. In this process, the eels are dried and smoked. To allow uniform drying throughout the thickness of the fish, the temperature during smoking is increased gradually. The smoking process may vary from country to country. The finished product is then packed either in boxes or in cans (10).

Jellied Eels. Jellied eels is a traditional British way of preparing eels. First, gutted, cleaned, and cut eels are placed into boiling water and then simmered until the flesh becomes tender. Cooking time depends primarily on size. The cooked pieces marinated with hot liquor are then poured into large bowls containing gelatine dissolved in a small amount of water. The amount of gelatine solution is determined by considering the condition of the eels and their natural capacity to gel. Experience is thus necessary to get the right recipe. Once the mixture has cooled, the pieces in jelly are packed into cartons for immediate fresh consumption. Shelf life can reach two weeks at chilled temperatures. There are various other recipes for preparing jellied eels (10).

Roasted Eels. Roasted eel is a favorite Japanese cuisine. The Japanese prepare roasted eels in several ways, such as, kabayaki (roasted eel with seasoning), shirayaki (roasted eel without seasoning), kimoyaki (roasted eel viscera with seasoning), and capitalyaki (roasted eel head with seasoning). Until recently, these preparations were only available in Japanese specialty restaurants. Domestic production, however, has not kept up with the large demand for roasted eels in Japan. Japan thus imports frozen roasted eel from Taiwan, where the roasted eel processing industry has boomed in recent decades, and the People's Republic of China, where the industry is in its initial stages.

Live eels are processed into frozen roasted eel in processing plants. The ideal size of the raw material is between five and six eels per kilogram. Within this size range, the smaller size commands a higher price.

In the cut fillet style, the eel is cut crosswise into three equal sections, with the tail cut lengthwise into two. If the weight is not enough, each half of the tail is stretched together with one of the other sections by using bamboo sticks. This step is usually done using a stretching machine. Stretching is done to keep the meat flat during cooking. For the whole fillet style, the fish is not cut into sections after the degutting process; they are, however, also stretched.

After cutting, the fillets are arranged on a conveyor and pass through single-sided or double-sided roasting machines. The fillet may be roasted either seasoned or unseasoned (Figs. 10 and 11). In single-sided machines, the inside portion is roasted first, then the eel is turned and the other side is roasted. Liquefied petroleum gas is used as fuel. The appropriate roasting time is about 3-5 min. Roasting indicators are the color of the meat (it should become evenly light scorched), the scorch bubbles (some should appear on the skin; under 3% of the total area), and the central temperature of the meat (it should reach 78°C). The most delicate part in the whole procedure would be in the precooling step because this is where the fillet becomes

Figure 10. Frozen roasted eel without seasoning, cut fillet style.
Figure 11. Roasted eel dish with seasoning, cut whole fillet style.

most susceptible to recontamination. It is thus necessary to control the bacterial drop rate, until the total plate count is under three colony-forming units/min.

Some manufacturers use precooling tunnels and spray cold air into the surface of the fillet: a shorter precooling time is maintained to minimize recontamination. The use of either individual quick freezing or contact freezing equipment is popular. In these types of equipment, the temperature drops to — 18°C within 30 min. After the central temperature has reached — 30°C to — 35°C, the frozen fillet is then removed from the pan or conveyor, then packed and stored at a temperature of -20°C (13). Comparing the weight of the processed eel (eviscerated but not yet seasoned and roasted) to the total weight of the raw material, the yield for cut and whole fillet may reach as much as 58-60% and 68-70%, respectively.

Sanitary standards for the products include negative amounts of coliforms, total bacterial count of under 3,000/ g, and negative presence of residues of contaminated chemicals in the meat, such as malachite green, methylene blue, oxolinic acid, antibiotics, nitrofurans, sulfamides, insecticides, and herbicides.

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