Dear Mr. Gold:
Is there anywhere in L.A. where I can find angulas — Spanish baby eels?
–Anthony Pan, via Facebook
Dear Mr. Pan:
Angulas? Really? Eels are slithering toward the endangered list, you know. We probably should lay off the babies for a while, no matter how delicious they may be when prepared by Basque cooks. There are probably a few hundred of the elvers in an average serving, which resembles translucent bits of spaghettini cooked quickly in warm olive oil flavored with garlic and hot chile, and that's a few hundred elvers that should be given the chance to frolic in the wide Sargasso Sea and produce baby eels of their own, at least until the populations are replenished.
The season for fresh angulas lies pretty much between about Thanksgiving and Valentine's Day, and they tend to be almost as expensive as caviar or white truffles. The frozen ones, when you can find them, are better than the canned, but cost about $800 a pound. The great ones are hard to find even in San Sebastian or Bilbao. But the canned ones at the Harbor City Spanish emporium La Española are passable, and you can get a tapa of what I assume are those angulas at La Paella for $55, which is a pretty low markup.
But — and I can't believe I'm actually saying this — the fake angula, made of the same surimi with which the Japanese fabricate artificial crab, tastes pretty much the same once you douse it in the spicy, garlicky oil, and La Paella sells it for a a tiny fraction of the price: just $12.
Basques are passionate about angulas. And I suspect I've just offended the ghosts of 50 generations of Basque gourmets. But the ersatz angulas are probably what you were eating in Spain anyway, unless you were paying 40 or 50 euros for a ración, and in this one case it may be OK to sacrifice a bit of texture and the sight of 400 balefully staring eyes to preserve a species well worth preserving.