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Rock eel: a story in 3 parts

October 10, 2017

I was in a fish and chip shop the other day and I saw that they had rock on the menu. That must be what we used to call rock eel, I thought; you don’t see it in chip shops much any more. So I ordered it for nostalgia’s sake. And it was really nice. Exactly as I remembered it, though I don’t suppose I’d eaten it for about a quarter of a century. It has a bone down the middle and is softer, denser, less flaky than cod. The flesh is creamy rather than white and it’s quite oily, with a strong, distinctive flavour. I wondered why it was no longer called rock eel – perhaps people don’t like the thought of eating eels these days.

That’s Part 1 of the story. Part 2 is that as chance would have it I was in another chip shop a few days later and this one had rock salmon on the menu. Was that the same fish? I had to order it, for the sake of the pursuit of knowledge. Sure enough, it was the same fish. Which I used to know as rock eel. But what is it, an eel or a salmon?

Now here’s Part 3. I googled it and it turns out the fish is neither an eel nor a salmon. Nor a rock. It is actually called huss and is a species of small shark. Why it goes around masquerading as other fish… well, that’s anyone’s guess. Perhaps somebody can supply a part 4 to conclude this story?

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  1. Simon Carter permalink

    In south London we always called it Roick salmon – usually just Rock and chips. I think it’s actually dog fish, also called Huss or Sweet William. It had a lot more flavour than cod.

  2. Simon Carter permalink

    Presumably this was a similar case to snake mackerel being renamed snoek during the war in an attempt to make it seem more appealing. By all accounts it was quite unpleasant whatever it was called.

  3. Jams O'Donnell permalink

    I always only have rock [salmon] and chips. I’ve also caught it in Scotland.

  4. Simon Carter permalink

    Two more fish the marketing men have rebranded; Orange Roughy aka Slimehead and Chilean Sea Bass aka Patagonian Toothfish. Both more attractive but the champion must be Prarie Oysters which are inclined to surprise the unwary.

  5. Pilchards have also been re-branded as Cornish Sardines.

  6. Simon Carter permalink

    There is an Australian fish called a Trevally which was previously known as a Snotty, or Snot Nose, Trevala which probably kept it off a few menus.

  7. Jams O'Donnell permalink

    Monkfish used to be sold as mock scampi. It’s now far more expensive than the real thing.

    • I liked the bit in Ian McEwan’s Saturday where he buys monkfish for a dinner party and it cost ‘slightly more than his first car’.

  8. I believe they’ve just tried to ‘posh up’ our rock and chips. Last week on St Ives I had monkfish and chips. Very nice but I prefer rock.
    As a child in the early sixties I recall the day I was in a fresh fish shop with my dad and all hell let lose when the live eels escaped a tin bath and slid off down the high street chased by the fishmonger. Recalling it now they were all of ten feet long – I was young and hysterical at the time.

  9. Simon Carter permalink

    I remember being fascinated in the fish mongers when they would kill eels by picking them up and whacking them on the edge of the counter top. No disputing the freshness but I never acquired the taste for them.

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