Hákarl

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Hákarl hanging to dry in Iceland

Hákarl or kæstur hákarl (Icelandic pronunciation: [ˈhauːkʰadl̥]) (Icelandic for "shark") is a food from Iceland consisting of a Greenland shark or sleeper shark (Somniosus microcephalus) which has been cured with a particular fermentation process and hung to dry for four to five months. Hákarl is an acquired taste;[1] it has a very particular ammonia-rich smell and fishy taste.

Hákarl is served as part of a þorramatur, a selection of traditional Icelandic food served at þorrablót in midwinter. It is readily available in Icelandic stores and is eaten year round.

Consumption[edit]

Hákarl in a store

Rotten shark is chosen instead of fresh shark meat because the meat of the Greenland shark is poisonous when fresh, because of a high content of urea and trimethylamine oxide, but may be consumed after being processed (see below). Allowing the shark to fully decay and cure removes retained uric acid from the flesh, making it edible.[2] It has a particular ammonia smell, similar to many cleaning products. It is often served in cubes on toothpicks. Those new to it will usually gag involuntarily on the first attempt to eat it because of the high ammonia content.[1] First-timers are sometimes advised to pinch their nose while taking the first bite, as the smell is much stronger than the taste. It is often eaten with a shot of the local spirit, a type of akvavit called brennivín. Eating hákarl is often associated with hardiness and strength.[3]

It comes in two varieties; chewy and reddish glerhákarl (lit. "glassy shark") from the belly, and white and soft skyrhákarl (lit. "skyr shark") from the body.

Preparation[edit]

Hákarl is traditionally prepared by gutting and beheading a Greenland or basking shark and placing it in a shallow hole dug in gravelly sand, with the now cleaned cavity resting on a small mound of sand. The shark is then covered with sand and gravel, and stones are placed on top of the sand in order to press the shark. In this way the fluids are pressed out of the body. The shark ferments in this fashion for 6–12 weeks depending on the season.

Following this curing period, the shark is then cut into strips and hung to dry for several months. During this drying period a brown crust will develop, which is removed prior to cutting the shark into small pieces and serving. The modern method is just to press the shark's meat in a large drained plastic container.[4]

Reactions[edit]

Chef Anthony Bourdain described hákarl as "the single worst, most disgusting and terrible tasting thing" he has ever eaten.[1]

Chef Gordon Ramsay challenged James May to sample three "delicacies" (Laotian snake whiskey, bull penis, and hákarl) on The F Word; after eating hákarl, Ramsay spat it out, although May kept his down. May's only reaction was, "You disappoint me, Ramsay."[5]

On season 2's Iceland episode of Travel Channel's Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern, Andrew Zimmern described the smell as reminding him of "some of the most horrific things I've ever breathed in my life," but said the taste was not nearly as bad as the smell. Nonetheless, he did note that hákarl was "hardcore food" and "not for beginners".

On the season 5 finale of River Monsters, Jeremy Wade tries a dried piece of hákarl and describes it as "burning the back of his throat" and having a very strong after taste.[citation needed]

Shark Museum[edit]

Bjarnarhöfn Shark Museum is a museum dedicated to the shark fishing industry. It is located at an old farm at the foot of Bjarnarhafnarfjall, about 170 km from Reykjavík on Hraunfjordur Bay on Snæfellsnes. Visitors can see the preparation of shark meat and the drying house where the sharks are hung to dry, and can taste a sample of shark meat.[6]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Herz, Rachel (28 January 2012). "You eat that?". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 30 January 2012. 
  2. ^ Yuen, David. "The Mystery of Hakarl: Rotten Shark Meat Delicacy From Iceland". 
  3. ^ http://www.comp.rgu.ac.uk/docs/gh/fish.html
  4. ^ Wheatley, Gale (20 September 2010). "Iceland's Wild Culinary Traditions: Hákarl and Brennivín". 
  5. ^ "Gordon Ramsay vs. James May", The F-Word 
  6. ^ Bjarnarhöfn Shark Museum.

External links[edit]