Eel is cooked differently according to the age and maturity of the fish. When they’re young, eel are small and translucent. Middle-aged eels, referred to as ascirole in Italian, are somewhat larger. When fully grown, eels are called calata, and are considered at their most delicious state of maturity.
Eels are cultivated in river areas called valli. They are usually purchased live then skinned and cleaned.
Eel is perhaps most notably served at the Feast of the Seven Fishes, the meal served on La Vigilia, or Christmas Eve. In many parts of Italy, the night is a partial fast. That is, meat is prohibited but fish is permitted. In practice, the Feast of the Seven Fishes bares very little resemblance to a fast. Seven is merely a benchmark– many families prepare upwards of fifteen courses. To leave eel out of the feast would be borderline sacrilegious. Eels can be found served grilled, spit roasted, roasted, fried, stewed in umido, or pickled.