What’s that green stuff? Liquor explained

a plate of pie and mash
Traditional Pie & Mash is served with a green coloured parsley sauce known as liquor. This sauce dates back 100’s of years to the eel street sellers of London.

We’re often asked by customers what liquor is, what its origins are, and if it contains eel – time to clear some things up.

Liquor is a savoury parsley sauce commonly served with traditional London style Pie & Mash. Liquor is not alcoholic; the name instead refers to a liquid in which something has been cooked[1]. The something in question was originally eels, although at G. KELLY we have never used eel water in our liquor.

The earliest known record of liquor comes from Henry Mayhew’s 1851 London Labour and the London Poor where Mayhew describes how “The portions [of eel] so cut are [sic] then boiled, and the liquor is thickened with flour and flavoured with chopped parsley and mixed spices”. Mayhew goes onto describe how the liquor was seasoned afterwards with “a small quantity of vinegar and spices”, a tradition which continues today[2].

The origins of adding this eel based sauce to Pie & Mash are less clear, however it was probably the result of eel sellers and pie sellers joining forces. These were originally separate street food enterprises, however Mayhew writes about the opening of pie shops which began to out compete both eel[2] and pie[3] street sellers. It makes sense that these pie shops would start selling eels to gain complete dominance of the market. It’s worth noting that Mayhew briefly mentions the existence of an eel pie[3], a likely culinary match for liquor, maybe this spurred the trend for liquor on meat pies? Adding to the confusion, Mayhew describes pie sellers serving their pies with a gravy, poured into the pie after making a incision[3], something which many modern Pie & Mash advocates would consider sacrilege.

At G. KELLY we make our liquor from plain water, eels have no part in its production. Instead it’s simply made from a wheat flour batter, salt and parsley; we leave seasoning with vinegar and pepper up to you. We do not add colouring to our liquor, a modern practice which unfortunately gives many Pie & Mash shops’ liquor an unappealing, sickly green appearance.

[1] Oxford English Dictionary definition of liquor 2.1
[2] London Labour and the London Poor Volume 1 The London Street-Folk by Henry Mayhew 1851 pp. 161
[3] and pp. 196