Opening Up A Can Of Worms

canofwormsthumb.JPGJanuary 2010 - I opened up a can of worms - and contrary to all possible expectations, it was a good thing...

The Can Of Worms

canofworms1.JPGIt was a present my sister brought me back from Spain (people buy me weird food as presents - it's great fun!) - it's baby eels in garlic oil. Except it's fake baby eels - producto de la pesca transformado - it's a surimi product (like crab sticks) - white fish processed with egg and milk protein - in this case, into little wormy shapes

Opening A Can Of Worms

canofworms2.JPGHere it is - the moment of opening a can of worms.

They were packed in oil flavoured with garlic - and on examination, they really do look like elvers - if you're wondering how I know this, read on...

canofworms3.JPGBut this is more than just an unusual gift - it's a chance to try a novel item of food - something I love doing.

I lightly softened some thinly sliced shallot and red pepper in a pan, then added the... err... things and cooked them for a further couple of minutes.

Then I served them on buttered wholemeal toast with a little sweet chilli sauce over the top:

canofworms4.JPGThey were pretty good - very tender and with a sweet, mild seafood flavour. Nice.

Why Would Anyone Want A Can Of Worms?

It certainly is an odd thing on the face of it, but the worms in this can are actually intended to resemble elvers - baby eels - anguilas in Spanish.

And even that might seem a strange thing to want in a can, but elvers are something of a delicacy - I tried them myself a while back - read on to see what they were like...

This canned, ersatz version doesn't quite match up to the real thing, but it's a fair approximation.

Mi Alimento Tiene Muchos Ojos - My Food Has Many Eyes

I spent Easter 2007 in Spain near Puerto de Mazarron - the town has a small but excellent indoor market with several fruit and vegetable stalls, a couple of delicatessen vendors, a bakery and two fish counters.

On the first of these, I spotted some tiny translucent, wormy things that looked like small white fish. They were the only item on the counter with no identifying label - just the price: €12.60 per kilo - expensive, but a kilo of these things would be a large amount.


I asked about these on the Straight Dope Message Board and they were identified as Anguilas (Elvers - baby eels) - confirmed on returning to the market another day, when my fumbled enquiry in Spanish was met with the English reply "they are anguilas - baby fish".

So I asked for un poco (a small amount), paid a few Euros and walked away with a couple of handfuls of the things in a plastic bag.

At this point, not knowing how they should be properly served, I made a guess - mix them up with some smashed garlic and a little olive oil - after which, they looked like this:

anguilas1.jpgIf you look closely, you can see their tiny black eyes.

Anyway, then I dredged them in some flour and dropped them briefly into hot oil:

anguilas2.jpgI fried them like that for just a minute or so (they are very slender and cooked quickly), then put them on some kitchen paper to drain.

Then I ate them

anguilas3.jpgThen I ate them, of course. I tried some on their own, then I tried some stuffed inside a pitta bread, along with some slices of avocado.

Surprisingly, they taste nothing at all like chicken. The flavour (aside from the garlic, oil, etc.) was a sort of mild, sweet, shellfishy taste - a bit like squid, a bit like crayfish, but very subtle. The texture was like soft pasta throughout - there were no bones.

All in all, it was quite a pleasant experience, apart from all those sad little beady eyes staring at me from the plate.

So... Mi alimento tiene muchos ojos - My food has many eyes.

What? You don't believe I ate them? OK, here's the photo:


PS: My wife ate them too (and enjoyed them), but - ha HA! - she can't prove it! (she was the one holding the camera).

Do People Really Eat Baby Eels?

They certainly do. Nowadays considered a rare delicacy, elvers (juvenile eels) were once a cheap and plentiful food - the eels migrate to the ocean to breed - then return to rivers, along with seething masses of squirming offspring, which could be easily trapped or simply caught with hand nets.

The trouble is, catching the juveniles has seriously depleted the population of eels in many rivers - so this isn't something I could eat more than once in all good conscience.