Capitone (plated)

A Neapolitan Christmas: Capitone fritto (Fried Eel)

In antipasti by Frank Fariello7 Comments

Capitone (plated)

It wouldn’t be Christmas Eve without fish, and capitone, or 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.

Ingredients

Serves 4-6 people

  • 4-6 small eels, cleaned and cut up into 5-8cm/2-3in lengths
  • Flour
  • Salt and pepper
  • Oil for frying

Directions

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.

Capitone (prep 2)

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.

Capitone (prep 3)

As they are done, remove the pieces to a plate lined with paper towels.

Capitone (prep 4)

Serve the eel right away, sprinkled with salt and lemon wedges. E buon natale! 

Notes

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 the fish. 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.

A Neapolitan Christmas: Capitone fritto (Fried Eel)

Rating: 51

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 30 minutes

Yield: Serves 4-6

A Neapolitan Christmas: Capitone fritto (Fried Eel)

Ingredients

  • 4-6 small eels, cleaned and cut up into 5-8cm/2-3in lengths
  • Flour
  • Salt and pepper
  • Oil for frying

Directions

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. As they are done, remove the pieces to a plate lined with paper towels.
  4. Serve the eel right away, sprinkled with salt and lemon wedges. E buon natale!

Fresh eel can be hard to find; your best bet is a local Asian market. For those who don't care for eel, soaked baccalà or regular fish fillets can be made in the same way.

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Frank FarielloA Neapolitan Christmas: Capitone fritto (Fried Eel)

Comments

  1. Nuts about food

    I love eel in every shape and form (when my mom lived in Sweden we would buy it smoked and devour it). Although it is quite traditional in Italy and I have heard of capitone a million times I never even knew it was eel… I have never had it here and don’t really come across it in stores in Lombardy. I will have to pay more attention next year and also do some research… is it more popular in the south or other regions? Is it just not used as much anymore? Mmmh, interesting…

    1. Author
      Frank

      It is very popular in Rome and points south. Not sure about the rest of Italy—perhaps in the Veneto? Definitely worth some research, do let us know what you learn!

  2. Claudia

    Why is it that I can only eat eel in Italy and not in America? I’m squeamish here and not over there. But you did evoke such memories of Grandma’s eel and my Aunt Fay’s. You reminded me how lucky I am. Happy New Year, Frank! May it be a magical one.

    1. Author
      Frank

      Personally, I think squeamishness is contagious. When you’re surrounded with people who eat eel (or anything else) without a fuss, then it’s easy enough to go with the flow. Here, on the other hand, the message is just the opposite.

      Happy New Year to you too, Claudia!

  3. Giuditta

    WOW! What memories you brought back–my grandfather would buy live eels on Dec. 23rd and keep them in the bathtub overnight. Christmas Eve day he’d get the hatchet and lop off their heads on an old tree stump. Then they were chunked into three-inch pieces, dusted with seasoned flour, and fried in olive oil. We gorged on these and fried smelts. Buon Natale!

Your comments are always welcome!