HOWTO make "rotten shark"

Worried that the uric acid in the shark you just caught makes it unsuitable for consumption? Try "rotten shark" -- putrefied, buried, dried shark jerky, an Icelandic "delicacy" that is even more fun to read about than it is to eat:
Take one large shark, gut and discard the innards, the cartilage and the head. Cut flesh into large pieces.Wash in running water to get all slime and blood off. Dig a large hole in coarse gravel, preferably down by the sea and far from the nearest inhabited house - this is to make sure the smell doesn't bother anybody. Put in the shark pieces, and press them well together. It's best to do this when the weather is fairly warm (but not hot), as it hastens the curing process. Cover with more gravel and put heavy rocks on top to press down. Leave for 6-7 weeks (in summer) to 2-3 months (in winter). During this time, fluid will drain from the shark flesh, and putrefication will set in.
Link (via Making Light)


  1. Yum.

    I saw this on a doc years ago. Good as this recipe sounds the guy in the doc pissed on it as well before burying.

    Piss Shark.


  2. Anthony Bourdain calls this “the single worst, most disgusting and terrible tasting thing” he’s ever eaten, and that’s really saying something. Check out the Iceland episode of No Reservations (and even better, the special behind-the-scenes episode about how miserable a shoot it was).

  3. If you start each morning with a mouthful of rotten shark, you can be pretty sure nothing worse than that will happen the rest of your day.

  4. I just want to know how they figured this out.

    What was their thought process?

    “Hey, here’s some fresh shark! Let me take a bite! (chomp) Bleccch! Tastes terrible!”

    At this point, most sane people would chalk it up to experience and not try to eat shark again.

    But no. Somehow, they decided:
    “Hey, maybe if I buried it on the beach for a couple of months it’d become edible!”

    What I think really happened was something like this:

    (coincidentally, there was a similar thread on Consumerist last week, and I posted about this there)

    Person 1: We’re all out of food. We haven’t had anything to eat for days.

    Person 2: Well, there is that shark that washed up on the beach a couple months ago that we buried. Go dig it up.

    Person 1: Ew. But I’m hungry… (chomp chomp)

    Person 2: How is it?

    Person 1: Shut up and eat.

    — weeks later —

    Person 3: Hey, how did you guys survive?

    Person 1: We ate the rotten shark.

    Person 3: Eww!

    Person 2: No, no, it’s really good! Yeah, that’s it! It’s delicious! Really! Not disgusting at all! No! Not at all! Here, try some…

    And a new culinary tradition is born.

  5. Andrew Zimmern ate this on Bizarre Foods. He tried to think of something good to say but it was clear he hated it.

  6. Whilst Paskettis guess is decent enough, it is not how this “delicacy” came to be (personally not a fan of it).

    Icelanders had no good method of storing food, no salt-mines and no efficient way of getting salt from sea. The only storage choice left was to just let the things dry up (dried fish, now that is a delicacy, we call it harðfiskur (hard fish)) or rot and ferment (see shark above and various other dishes, such as fermented stingray which is a tradional Dec 23rd dish), also some sort of a pickling mechanism for meat. With short summers and long winters, a lot of dry, pickled and rotten food was consumed.

    This is why we currently have a wide choice of restaurants in Iceland, hardly any of them serving traditional food from the days of old.

  7. Maybe you’ve also heard of gravlax, which is cured salmon that was traditionally prepared in a similar way…

  8. When I visited Iceland a few years ago I tried this. It was interesting to say the least, but a food that I will not try again.
    (to me) it tasted like I put a cube of sand in my mouth that was soaked in hot sauce…the effect was “interesting” to say the least.

    I’ll stick to the Skyr!!

  9. Graflax (to use the icelandic and not scandinavian spelling) is pure and utter awesomeness!

    A toast with a piece of graflax and traditional graflax-sauce (mustardy with herbs) is something everyone should taste and most will like. Our dutch guests loved it and I’ve yet to see someone refuse it!

    It is much better than smoked salmon (reyktur lax) by far.

  10. @Redbull_UK: You basically made Jerky there. And yeah, besides being an all-around fun time for everybody, it is quite delicious. You get lean enough meat, and it’s even healthy. Well, okay. That is stretching it a bit… But still.

    I make mine on an old box-fan that the front plastic ‘OMG-Think-of-the-children’ grill fell off of and a couple of bog-standard furnace filters. You know the ones that have the paper-thin and folded filter that looks like a washboard? They cost me $3 each (I get 5) and the fan was ‘free’. I put the meat I want to dehydrate into the little ‘valleys’ that the furnace filters have, then put another filter on top. I do this for 4 layers. Then I put the last one on top (no meat on that one) and I turn on the fan.

    Sweet, delicious, and mouth-watering meaty smells blast forth from the fan, which I leave running for about a week, maybe shorter if I can’t wait that long. This also works remarkably well for drying fresh herbs out on. Same procedure, just with the plants.

  11. @church: Brine is about 25% salt, while seawater is 3.5%. Turning one into the other requires firewood or coal, neither of which Iceland has, or strong sun — also problematic.

    From about the 15th until the 20th century, Iceland was by far the poorest European nation, so it doesn’t surprise me that there’s some chancy stuff in their traditional cuisine. Desperation makes an excellent sauce.

  12. Luteshark? I’ll pass, thanks anyway. I still haven’t worked up the nerve to actually try the lutefisk in the market near where my dad lives in the Yoop.

  13. Every material thing in the world has a spiritual source.

    The spiritual source of a material thing determines the thing’s size, shape, function, and nature.

    Ingestion of a material thing as food transfers the material thing’s nature–miniscule, perhaps–into the one who consumes it since that material thing is absorbed into and becomes part of the consumer.

    Eating shark transfers some of the shark’s nature into whoever eats it.

    Thank G-d for the laws of kashrus.

  14. For Top Gear fans (well, James May fans at least) his appearance on Gordon Ramsay’s “The F Word” featured a memorable encounter with this delicacy.

  15. There’s a similar Northern dish that I read abut years ago that involves stuffing a seal carcass with little birds and burying it all in the sand for weeks/months to rot/ferment. Yummy. It is described in Jon Turk’s “Cold Oceans”, I think.

  16. Rotten shark is not that bad… it’s smells worse than it tastes! Really!

    Try to go to airport with a bag full of this stuff! I did.

  17. The article recommends that the rotten shark be eaten with “an ice-cold shot of brennivin”.

    Brennivin, apparently, is caraway schnapps.

    Caraway schnapps? CARAWAY schnapps?

    I dunno about you, but if I had to choose between rotten shark and caraway schnapps, I think I’d go for the shark.

  18. Yes, Bizarre Foods’ Andrew Zimmern said that it has a sweetness but it tastes like ammonia. Delicious! (Puke.)

  19. Here’s the scene from the show. Actually, he says it “smells” like ammonia and it “tastes much better than it smells” calling it “sweet and nutty”.

    I’m a regular viewer and although Zimmern clearly doesn’t like this, he does eat it twice which is more than when he REALLY doesn’t like something. This dude has a cast-iron stomach.

  20. With dwinding shark populations, maybe it’s time to retire this along with other “delicacies” like Shark fin soup?

  21. There are over 360 species of sharks. Not all of them are dwindling, same goes for the whales, some are in danger of extinction and others breed like rabbits.

  22. I once read that Norwegian fishermen have a variant on this technique; they nail some fish to the masts of their boats and let them cure in the salt spray for a few months. Yum!

    And brennivin has been described in one travel guide as having no purpose other than getting the taste of fermented shark out of one’s mouth. Certainly, the taste is not much to write home about. Though, if The Xenophobe’s Guide to the Icelanders is to be believed, drinking alcohol for the taste was until recently an alien concept in Iceland, where they drink for only one purpose–to get drunk as efficiently as possible. (As might you, if you had a few months a year of bitter cold and very little sunlight.)

  23. I have, on my list of ‘things to do once in my life’, eating hakarl. If Zimmern can eat it, I can eat it.

    The process here is far different than graflax.

    This is fermented shark’s meat.

    Graflax is (origianlly) salmon cured in peat moss tea, which contains a chemical (a sugar!) that suppresses bacterial action – the same chemical that allows so many organic remains to be fished, millennia later, from peat bogs.

    Often nowadays Graflax is salmon cured with regular sucrose sugar and pepper or whatnot; The sugar makes the water content unavailable to bacterial action – when it is done right.

  24. I had an Icelandic roommate my freshman year in college. She kept similar jerky in her desk drawer, and the room smelled horrible ALL THE TIME. One time my RA came in and said, “I think there’s a skunk around here somewhere.” Nope, that is just the Icelandic delicacy I have to live with 24/7.

  25. Caraway schnapps?

    Isn’t that the same as akvavit? I drank a whole bottle once. Dry heaves for days.

  26. Great.. I had a bit of rotten shark when I stayed with a couch-surfer at the north fjords in iceland: disgusting [..seriously/of course] ; )

    we also tried sheep’s balls and sheep’s head. my girlfriend liked the rotten shark. but she also likes rotten cheese. I can’t stand rotten/sour things. I need a steak with peppercorn sauce! NOW!!!

  27. C’n’p from the discussion on Making Light – I was trying to figure out why Icelandic people would think shark is poisonous, when shark is a nice white fish meat:

    As you know, Bob, people in much of the world eat fresh shark meat just fine. In fact, the shark population worldwide is under serious pressure due to overfishing.

    I wrote most of a long response about how weird it was that the hakarl articles stated that shark meat contains uremic acid – I think there’s no such thing; perhaps they mean uric acid? – and/or cyanide and is deadly poisonous unless given this treatment. The article Teresa linked says “Fresh shark meat is said to have caused people to vomit blood” which seems nonsensical.

    Then I noticed that there’s a specific type of shark referenced in hakarl, the Greenland shark, about which Wikipedia (for what it’s worth) states: “The flesh of a Greenland shark is poisonous when fresh. This is due to the presence of the toxin trimethylamine oxide, which, upon digestion, breaks down into trimethylamine, producing effects similar to extreme drunkenness. Occasionally, sled dogs that end up eating the flesh are unable to stand up due to the neurotoxins.” Huh. Whaddya know.

    On further reflection, it seems to be another case of the food equivalent of Rule 34 – “No matter how poisonous something is, somebody somewhere in the world will have found a way to eat it – and like it!”

    A canonical example is cassava, a staple diet in much of the tropic world, even though it contains cyanide compounds which can kill or severely poison you if you don’t cook it sufficiently. Despite this, it tastes OK, and it’s one of the easiest to cultivate sources of starch, and that’s turned it into a nearly world-wide staple food.

    Fortunately the same can not be said for Greenland shark.

  28. Antinous, akvavit is good, in tiny glasses.

    A whole bottle of anything in that proof however… I couldn’t drink rum for years after one college night and its aftermath.

  29. Surströmming (.se for Sour herring) anyone? The jar needs to be opened underwater in a sink or something to prevent the fumes from escaping to where people are supposed to live.

    A Finnish urban legend tells that after WWII, Finland started receiving UN aid only after their reps had visited the country during easter holidays and witnessed the locals eating Mämmi ( ).

  30. Sharks are basically stewing in urea. If you eat them right out of the water, it’s not that bad, but it starts to smell like ammonia pretty soon. Supposedly cooking it with onions negates the ammonia smell.

  31. winkybb, you are right about the stuffed seal. But when a group of french explorers led by Paul Emile Victor ate some in the company of their Inuit guide in the 30s, half of them died !

  32. I’ve eaten regular shark a number of times. It really is not full of urea, or it would be worse when fresh; it tastes much like swordfish or other white fishes. You can buy it in the frickin’ supermarket a lot of places. I don’t eat it any more because now I try to eat lower on the food chain.

    Mämmi sounds pretty good, actually.

  33. The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program is not keen on the consumption of shark meat. Shark populations are declining worldwide, and part of the problem is that sharks are part of the “bycatch,” ie, the unwanted stuff that gets thrown back.

    The only shark species on the Seafood Watch’s approved list is the spiny dogfish, only when it is caught in British Columbia. Even then, it’s only a “good alternative,” not a “best choice.”

  34. There seems to be a lot of this kind of “weirdly” preserved fish in the Scandinavian countries (yes, sounds a lot like lutefisk). Perhaps this is why the Vikings were so feared, if they were man enough to consume rotten fish, or fish cured with lye and/or urine, well. . . you think they’d be afraid of your silly little swords and arrows?

  35. The brennvin does burn that putrid shark taste right out of your mouth- it does its job admirably.

    But lord the fish jerky, skyr and salmon pate (ah, I adore you salmon pate) more than make up for the unfortunate shark meat invention.

  36. Putrefication and fermentation are two different things. This is similar to methods that Inuit used to ferment raw fish to make them easier to digest, and is a form of fermentation. Putrid meat is actually quite dangerous to eat and no traditional society would create a delicacy out of such a health hazard.

    And the process of fermenting with urine is seen in other cultures as well. The similarly odd-sounding Chinese “Hundred Year Eggs” were traditionally fermented in horse urine for many weeks until the egg turned off-colors.

  37. It really is not full of urea

    Shark meat has an unpleasant taste due to the presence of high concentrations of the waste product urea in the tissue. Sharks store urea to maintain an osmotic balance with seawater so as not to have a water loss problem.

    Sharks must be bled and iced immediately upon capture. The shark’s blood contains urea, a compound that helps maintain the animal’s body fluids. After the shark dies, bacteria break the urea down to ammonia, which can impart an off-taste to the meat. Do not use shark meat that smells strongly of ammonia.

  38. @ Pasketti – I always figured that in ancient societies there was one family – let’s call them the Jones’ – who were picked on by the other families and forced to try new foodstuffs. They’d be forced to eat, say, a type of toadstool and, if they survived / weren’t violently ill, everyone else would try it. I’m not sure how it worked when it came to varieties of similar items – fir cones, say – maybe they could refuse after a while and the village would let them, figuring that they needed a break now and again.
    @ Lauren O – “RA”?

  39. Well I’m no fish scholar, but I do know that Australians eat fresh shark regularly and to this day. Whenever I go back I make sure to go to a fish and chip shop and get some “flake” as it is called.
    Maybe Northern shark is dangerous or gross when fresh (anything’s possible) but certainly not all shark.

  40. I can vouch for Redbull’s particular Biltong recipie, it is fantastic (others I’ve tried were all far to heavy on the salt). Thanks redbull & B3TA!

  41. Shark can be good, I understand. But that one sounds nasty.

    That No Reservations episode is the best one of the series, IMO.

  42. Yes we Aussies are shark-eaters (Flake) – but it’s at the ‘lowbrow’ end of the seafood spectrum here.

    I have an Icelandic friend who had his family ship packets of hakarl to him when he was abroad, he missed the taste so much. Tasted very ‘stinky’, like you tasted it with your nose more than your mouth. Actually wasn’t as bad as I expected, like a putrid blue cheese or very strong mushroom.

  43. Having thought about this some more…

    Isn’t rotten shark basically “kim chee for carnivores”?

  44. #30 Lauren O, the “fish jerky” or harðfiskur (hard fish) as we call it, is simply fish left out to dry in the sun and wind. And it is a delicacy although it does smell quite strongly.

    It is also VERY different from the shark discussed here, that stuff makes your eyes water and your nose to reverse itself.

  45. They were motivated to eat this rot out of a desire or need to preserve foods longer. Same thing that motivated people to try unbearable foods like sauerkraut, kimchee, lutefisk, pickled watermelon rind, and lots of other dishes that disgust most people who grew up with access to refrigeration and modern canning.

    Wait, you people still eat sauerkraut? Why?

  46. I love sauerkraut and kimchi. I love everything pickled (yes, even takuan). Gorgonzola, Roquefort, even that Spanish blue cheese that comes wrapped in grape leaves and tastes like dead fingers. I think that some people just really have a taste for fermentation.

  47. I had kimchee and ramen noodles for lunch about 20 minutes after writing that post. I learned how to make sauerkraut and kimchee at home to fuel my fantasies about peak oil, when we run out of that fuel, and then the grocery stores run out of cans, etc. Also makes you feel like a survivalist who’s vaguely sorta ready for a Reaganite Road Warrior nuclear apocalypse. Food-preservation-wise, at least.

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