I got given an eel the other day. Here’s another post on what I did with it.
This is a bit of a geeky post. I love anatomy. I didn’t eat meat for a long time, and now when I do each death and meal becomes a biology lesson. Dissecting the eel teaches me about its life and things like what it’s been feeding on. I thought I would find gutting an eel interesting but I wasn’t expecting it to be so beautiful. Not for the first time, but I majorly wished I had a decent camera when I did this.
One of the things that’s become obvious while learning about eel is the importance of the right tools. A well sharpened knife would have made this alot easier (I used a curved butcher’s knife which seemed a good shape). Eel skin is quite tough (apparently it can cured to make pouches and handbags).
I had left the eel in a bucket overnight. The next morning I set to gutting and cleaning it. I decided to take it to the lake to do this, and I’m really glad I did. It was so much easier than if I had been at home. I actually did the gutting and cleaning in a small creek a few metres up from the lake, partly because I spent some time last night on the Fish n Hunt forum reading stories about how monster eels rear up out of ponds and rivers when they smell food and snatch catch from people’s hands.
Using the creek meant that the clean up afterwards was pretty straightforward too, down to the nice silty sand for cleaning the buckets. All I had was a bucket, knife, towel and phonecamera.
Firstly I laid the eel on its back in the creek and washed off any grit and sand. I tried cutting the skin directly, unsuccessfully, so I then used the knife to cut up from the vent. This was easiest with the point in the vent, the blade facing forward and upward. I kept my hands behind in case the knife slipped, and once the cut was started it was relatively easy to keep cutting in this way (essentially from underneath the skin):
As I went I peeled back the skin to exposed the innards, taking care to not cut or nick the intestines. This wasn’t hard to do either as there was quite a lot of room inside. Here’s the lower intestine (the pinky, windy tube). The creamy coloured bit between my thumb and the intestine is fat:
Near the top end of the fish is the liver (the large red bit). It was larger than I expected. The intestines were covered in a beautiful layer of blood vessels. The bluey coloured bit just under the left of the liver is the bladder. If you enlarge this photo you can see better how the intestine is on the left (it coils a bit as it nears the vent), and on the right, underneath that other set of blood vessels is the stomach:
Right near the top is what I think is the heart. It was really small. You can see the bladder better too (just under my thumb):
Here’s a better shot of the fat. At this stage I thought it was going to be hard to remove (especially without cutting into organs), but later it was actually easy to cut away with some scissors:
With the whole cavity exposed I was able to get under the organs and cut them out without doing too much overall damage. Here’s the liver…
and the tiny heart, with lots of fat around it…
Now that I’d taken the top organs out, I was able to remove the intestines. I’m not sure but I think the dark red bit is the pancreas:
I managed to nick the bladder, which was blue but leaked out this intensely yellow urine. See the shiny rounded bit in the middle at the bottom? That’s an air bladder. It’s big and very central within the eel. I popped that too:
Somewhere in all that I must have cut into the esophagous, because here is a couple of little fishes, partially digested that popped back out from the stomach. All through this the stomach has been tucked away underneath everything else (or above everything else if the eel was up the right way):
Here’s the same end, where I’m sticking my finger into the top of the stomach tube. All the insides of the eel were really smooth:
And finally it’s all out. This is the first decent look at the stomach. I’ve lost track a bit, I think the stomach is on the left in my hand. It doesn’t look like it’s separate from the rest of the intestine:
Here’s the last photo. This is looking down the throat of the eel. See where my thumb is, in the middle of that depression that looks like stripes is the esophagus. Directly under the thumbs and on the four ‘corners’ of the depression are darker pink pads that are very coarse and grabby. I’m guessing these help the eel hold onto it’s food that is still alive while it swallows it: