The conger eel is a bony sea fish belonging to the Congridae family, common in the eastern part of the North Atlantic. It lives near the coast at depths between 0 and 1171 metres and is a voracious nocturnal fish predator.
Once gutted, salted, and cured, it has a completely different appearance, colour, flavour, smell and texture to the fresh version. The smell is reminiscent of umami, the dark colour is due to the curing process, the texture is dry, stiff, and the taste is strong and very distinctive.
It is an important product for the town of Muxia, where thousands of tourists visit the old conger eel drying sheds every year and today there is only one producer left who tries to keep this unique tradition alive.
The product can only be found in very limited quantities, as today’s hectic lifestyle is not conducive to this type of product, which needs at least twenty-four hours of hydration before cooking. Another peculiarity is its intense taste, like that of a blue cheese, which does not meet everyone’s taste.
This traditional food is in danger of disappearing as only one company continues to produce it in Muxia, a small fishing village in Galicia, and to distribute it to its customers mainly in the region of Aragon.
This product has very ancient origins, dating back to the 15th century, as evidenced by documents certifying the barter with which it was exchanged during the Middle Ages.
The conger eel is dried mainly in winter, when the north-east wind blows, in open-air wooden structures called ‘cabrias’. The preparation of the conger eel is very delicate and a true craftsman of the sea, called ‘lañar’, is needed to prepare it in the traditional way.
Dried conger eel is mainly consumed in Aragon, more specifically in Zaragoza, since in the 15th century the ropes made by the inhabitants of Bilbilitano were exchanged for dried conger eel made in Muxia. This ancient tradition has been maintained to the present day.
The most traditional recipe is ‘congrio seco a la bilbilitana’. It consists of 500 grams of dried Castilian chickpeas, 300 grams of dried conger eel, cloves of garlic, a hard-boiled egg, pine nuts, slices of stale bread, a bay leaf, water, salt and extra virgin olive oil. The day before, soak the chickpeas and the dried conger eel in hot water for about eight hours. On the day of preparation, put the conger eel in a pot of cold water and when it comes to the boil, add the chickpeas and cook for another 60-90 minutes. Cut the bread into pieces and toss it in a pan with oil and pine nuts. With a mortar, crush the fried bread, pine nuts, garlic and hard-boiled egg. When the chickpeas are cooked, add the crushed breadcrumbs and cook for another 15 minutes. Is must be left aside for an hour before serving.