What swims in the ocean, is poisonous when fresh, provokes a gag reflex to novice eaters, smells like cleaning products, is dried for four months and served on the end of the toothpick?
“the single worst, most disgusting and terrible tasting thing” – Chef Anthony Bourdain
Why its the Icelandic delicacy Hákarl of course! Fermented and dried Greenland shark that inedible and actually poisonous when fresh due to a high concentration of urea and trimethylamine oxide.
The traditional method is by gutting and beheading a Greenland or sleeper 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.
After six to 12 weeks of fermenting and curing, the shark is then cut into strips and hung to dry for several months to dry. During this time a brown crust develops, which is removed prior to cutting the shark into small chunks.
First-timers are 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 local liquor called brennivín which is a form of akvavit.
Kæstur hákarl is readily available in Icelandic stores and is eaten year-round, grab some when you visit Iceland if you are feeling as brave as a Viking!