Eels in green sauce, this is a Belgian classic! Paling in ‘t groen, the herb sauce contains fresh parsley, mint, oregano and chervil!
Eels in green sauce…
I have been wanting to make this classic dish for such a long time now because I just love it!
However there was just one problem: fresh eel is quite hard to find around here nowadays. And if you can find fresh eel, then you have a new problem: the prices!
Eels in Green Sauce (Paling in ’t Groen)
Boy, eel is so expensive.
Are they also expensive where you live?
Can you find eel at all?
But I don’t have to worry anymore now. I just found a great alternative: dogfish!
Dogfish looks more or less the same, it’s more pinkish while eels are kind of silver greyish.
Their taste and texture are very similar though. You could say that eel is more tacky maybe. But overall dogfish is a great substitute for this eel in green sauce.
You can also just choose to serve the green sauce with a piece of fish. Cod fish would also be a good match for example.
The Green Herb Sauce
In France they call this dish ‘anguilles au vert’ in French. In Flemish and Dutch this dish is called ‘paling in ’t groen’. Paling means eel and groen is green.
Oh, and that heavenly green sauce.
It’s a mixture of lots of fresh green stuff. The 2 main components are fresh spinach and chervil. Add whatever other green herbs you want next. I also added parsley, mint and fresh sorrel.
Have you heard of sorrel before?
It is a leafy green herb that tastes very sour. It comes in 2 types: green sorrel and red veined green sorrel. You might mistake beetroot leaves for the latter by the way.
What the sorrel does in this recipe is give the sauce a lemony fresh touch.
No sorrel around where you live?
Then you can add a couple of drops of lemon juice to the sauce.
Check out another classic fish recipe that asks for sorrel: my pan fried salmon in sorrel cream sauce!
I kept the green sauce very pure and simple. Lots of restaurant style versions of this dish contain cornstarch or flour to thicken the green sauce. Which gives me downright goosebumps.
Just keep it simple.
Eel Restaurants in Belgium
Eels in green sauce is a dish that you don’t find that easily anymore in restaurants.
There are just a couple of good old places with a splendid reputation that serve this classic. Last time I had this classic was in Antwerp, in one of our favorite restaurants here in town called Minerva.
Head chef and owner Philip’s eels in green sauce were absolutely perfect.
Another restaurant where they do a mean eels in green sauce is Tissens in Hoeilaart near Brussels.
There’s an annual eel festival in the region of Sint-Amands and Mariekerke. A restaurant close by in Bornem Wintam that specializes in eel is De Groenendijk. Although I prefer their pan fried eel over the eels in green sauce.
Last time I had it, the sauce contained too much flour to my taste.
You won’t find eels in green sauce all year round.
Like many fish eel are at their best in certain months. And that’s in April, May and June.
You must be familiar with other eel versions in the world!
And I think you definitely know the famous Japanese grilled eel fillets that are glazed with a sweetened soy-based sauce. I love them especially over some steamed rice, unadon or unagi donburi.
Another classic is smoked eel.
You can it practically everywhere in The Netherlands. In a salad, stuffed in a bread roll. Or simply as a street food snack while visiting farmers markets.
Do you love classic fish recipes?
Then also check out my pan fried sole meunière in butter sauce!
Eels in Green Sauce Recipe (Paling in ’t Groen)
- 1 ⅖ lbs fresh eel (650 g), cleaned
- 2 medium shallots chopped finely
- 1 large garlic clove chopped finely
- a handful fresh chervil
- a small handful fresh parsley
- 2 handfuls fresh spinach
- a small handful fresh mint
- a small handful fresh oregano
- 8 leaves fresh sorrel
- ½ cup dry white wine (120 ml)
- 1 cup fish stock (240 ml)
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter
- Heat a large pan of water until boiling. Rinse the spinach. Cut the leaves in half and remove the tougher line in the middle. Also trim the fresh herbs and remove any tough stems. Then add the spinach, chervil, parsley, mint and oregano to a sieve and rinse well.
- Let the greens drain. Once the water is boiling, add the spinach and herbs (don’t add the sorrel yet). Stir gently and let them all blanch in the hot water for just a minute, not more.
- Then strain the blanched spinach and herbs and immediately refresh them under cold running tap water to preserve the fresh green color. Transfer the blanched greens to a bowl, then add cold water and place it in the fridge.
- Rinse the eels and cut them into 3-inch (7 cm) bits.
Melt half of the butter in a large casserole. Also add the chopped shallot and garlic.
Gently fry them for 3 minutes. Then add the chopped eels.
- Stir and bake the eels for 4 minutes. Then pour in the white wine.
- Let the wine reduce by half and then pour in the fish stock. Season with some pepper.
Cover the casserole, keep the heat medium and cook the eels for 5 more minutes until cooked through. Then remove the lid and let the remaining liquid reduce for another 3 minutes (you need some for later as well). Remove the eels from the pan and put them on a clean plate. Drain the cooled greens well and add them to a blender. Then add 3 tablespoons of the eel cooking liquid.
- Blend well and then add the sorrel.
- Blend again into a thick green paste. Then add this paste and the rest of unsalted butter to the reduced fish stock in the casserole.
- Stir well. Add the lemon juice. With a stick mixer blend the green sauce until very smooth. You can also use a blender for this.
- Check the seasoning of the green sauce and add extra pepper, salt or lemon juice to taste. Then add the cooked eels to the sauce.
- Stir and scoop the eels in green sauce into bowls. Serve hot.