It wouldn’t be Christmas Eve without fish, and capitone fritto, or fried eel is one of the most popular choices in Italy, where the tradition goes back for millennia. While eel is almost unheard of in the US outside sushi circles, there’s a good reason for its popularity: eel has a meaty flavor and firm texture that even the most fish-phobic eater can enjoy—if only they would give it a try.
Serves 4-6 people
- 4-6 small eels, cleaned and cut up into 5-8cm/2-3in lengths
- Salt and pepper
- Oil for frying
Rinse the eel pieces very well and pat dry with paper towels. Roll the eels in flour, seasoned with salt and pepper, and shake off any excess.
Deep or shallow-fry the eel pieces in oil over a moderate heat until they are nice and golden brown on all sides. As with any frying, make sure the pieces are well spaced in the pan, well surrounded by oil on all sides. Work in batches in you need to.
As they are done, remove the pieces to a plate lined with paper towels.
Serve the fried eel right away, sprinkled with salt and lemon wedges. E buon natale!
In Rome and southern Italy, eels are everywhere in the markets around Christmas time, but that may not be true everywhere. Here in the US, you can find marinated and grilled eel in sushi places, but fresh eels are very hard to find. Asian markets are your best bet, and a local Chinese supermarket is where I found my eel yesterday, still swimming around in a big tank. Your best bet is to ask your fish monger to kill and clean the eel for you, but if that’s not an option—or you like culinary adventure—this video from a Naples fish market will show you how a professional does it.
If you’re in the US, I would heartily recommend Wondra flour for frying seafood; it produces a thin and wonderfully crispy crust. The best oil in my opinion for shallow-frying capitone is olive oil, which gives a nice, rich flavor to your fried eel. Make sure you have enough oil in the pan to come at least halfway up the sides of the pieces so they fry on all sides.
If you are one of the many people who are squeamish about eel, the same basic technique works well for baccalà, soaked overnight until tender and cut into fillets, squid, clean and cut into rings, or just plain old fish fillets.