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  • Ju Shardlow: Look up the list of

  • the most misunderstood foods in the world,

  • and fermented shark is probably on it.

  • But here in the west of Iceland,

  • it is a regional delicacy.

  • It's Greenland shark

  • that's been laboriously fermented, dried, and cured.

  • And it's been done by one family in this area

  • for hundreds of years.

  • We're here to find out what it tastes like.

  • Guðjón Hildibrandsson: The Greenland shark is the most

  • toxic shark in the world.

  • Fresh meat, you will get very sick.

  • Then a little bit more, you could probably go blind.

  • And then death after that.

  • Ju: So what exactly does it take to make it safe to eat?

  • We met with Guðjón Hildibrandsson.

  • He's running his family business of shark curing

  • here in Bjarnarhöfn.

  • Guðjón: I've been eating the shark since before I got teeth.

  • I've been doing the curing process probably since I was 10.

  • This is just all my life.

  • Just shark, shark, shark.

  • We don't catch them ourselves, not anymore.

  • Now we buy them from these big trawling boats,

  • who catch the shark accidentally.

  • But my family used to catch them and hunt them.

  • Ju: Guðjón cures about 60 sharks a year.

  • From fishing to cube, the whole process takes six months.

  • The meat is first fermented in cold storage rooms,

  • like this one.

  • Guðjón: Next, I'm gonna open it up,

  • and you're going to put your head in it.

  • You're gonna inhale.

  • [Ju laughs]

  • And then you're gonna explain the smell you feel.

  • Ju: OK, yeah, yeah, I'm ready.

  • Guðjón: Shall we check it out? Ju: I'm ready, OK.

  • Guðjón: So.

  • Ju: Stick my head in? Guðjón: Yeah, here we go.

  • Ju: It's, um,

  • I dye my hair, and it's literally like bleach.

  • It's hair bleach. Right.

  • Yeah, like hair dye.

  • Oh, wow.

  • So, oh, I'm sorry, I'm sorry. [laughs]

  • Guðjón: It is very strong. Ju: It's really strong.

  • Guðjón: Because it's a closed unit.

  • Ju: Do you know what it is?

  • It's hair bleach and Stilton.

  • Guðjón: We are working with similar bacterias,

  • like when you're doing cheese.

  • Ju: So that's why?

  • Guðjón: Let's check this out.

  • Ju: Oh, you can see the oozing.

  • Guðjón: Yeah. Ju: Yeah.

  • Guðjón: And then you can also - this is like

  • it does not smell as intense as when we walked in.

  • Ju: No.

  • Guðjón: So this can stay here for some while longer.

  • So, here we have the thinner pieces.

  • And we make these handles in the skin for grabbing them,

  • lifting them up, hanging them up.

  • So these are the thinner pieces.

  • And under here we have the fillet.

  • So, this is how that's, that's much, much thicker pieces.

  • And he has white meat.

  • He does not have a fat layer.

  • He has white meat.

  • And it's very important to have the skin on,

  • because the meat, it's so loose itself

  • that if it's no skin,

  • then the meat just basically stretch.

  • The thinner pieces, after the process,

  • the meat becomes sort of red or brown.

  • And we call that glerhákarl.

  • Ju: Glerhákarl. Guðjón: Yeah.

  • And the meat is, it's more chewy and salty.

  • And then we have the fillet. That stays white.

  • The fillet we call skyrhákarl.

  • It's named after the milk product, skyr.

  • Ju: Oh, yeah, yeah. We love skyr.

  • What is the liquid that's coming off, then?

  • Guðjón: Ammonia.

  • Water, there is a lot of water in the meat.

  • The Greenland shark, he has much more water in him

  • than other fishes, or other sharks.

  • So it's ammonia.

  • Ju: What is that doing in the scientific process of it?

  • 'Cause it's poisonous when it's fresh?

  • Guðjón: Yeah.

  • The Greenland shark is the most toxic shark in the world.

  • And the Greenland shark is a deep-ocean, cold-ocean shark.

  • So Icelanders, they first

  • started fishing them for the liver.

  • And they used the oil from the liver.

  • So for the first 200 years, when they were fishing them,

  • they had to throw the meat away. They couldn't use it.

  • So there was big waste of meat.

  • And in Iceland and isolated areas, this was a big waste.

  • So 400 years ago, probably accidentally,

  • they discovered the process to use the meat.

  • Ju: What would happen if I took a bite of that now?

  • What would happen to me? Will I go blind, or...?

  • Guðjón: Now it's that far in the fermentation

  • that you would be fine.

  • But before, fresh meat,

  • something small, you would get very sick.

  • Then a little bit more, you could probably go blind.

  • And then death after that.

  • Ju: OK, great. [both laugh]

  • Great, I will not be taking a bite of that.

  • So, this part of the process,

  • is this the most important part

  • to get the taste of it, or the curing?

  • Guðjón: This basically does everything.

  • It makes the meat not toxic.

  • It's preserved.

  • After this, you can eat it.

  • It's not toxic.

  • But the drying process is just to get a better texture

  • in the meat because it's just so wet and moist.

  • And it's very important that these boxes,

  • they have these gaps on them

  • so the liquid can leak from it.

  • And also for oxygen to get in,

  • because the meat, it needs to breathe.

  • There are chemical changes that are happening,

  • that are making the meat untoxic.

  • First, people didn't know this was a chemical process.

  • It was an accident.

  • Now this is a chemical process and we are,

  • there are a lot of interesting things

  • that we are even still discovering.

  • It's also different after where the shark has been,

  • and what depth, and what temperature he was caught.

  • The different depth and what chemicals are high or low in.

  • So, in these boxes, the meat loses about around 30%.

  • So it loses a lot of weight here.

  • And then in the drying process, it loses, like, 50, 70%.

  • So total use of meat is around 8%.

  • Ju: What happens to the ammonia when it drains?

  • I mean, is it, it's OK to be

  • I mean, you've got, like, I've got boots on,

  • and you've got little sandals and socks. [both laugh]

  • Guðjón: The ammonia is, the liquid here is, that's fine.

  • We could drink it.

  • I won't, though, but.

  • [both laugh]

  • Ju: I'm pretty sure that's a cure for something.

  • Guðjón: You want some maybe?

  • No. Ju: No.

  • One shark will give from 30 to 40 pieces of fillet.

  • The meat ferments for six to nine weeks in the wooden boxes,

  • then it's hung outside for six months to fully dry out.

  • Guðjón: To know if it's ready, we check the texture.

  • And these are all,

  • like, good.

  • They are, the texture is fine.

  • We don't want it too hard, and not too mushy.

  • And then we have this one here.

  • This one is not stiff enough.

  • So he needs more time, but these here are ready.

  • Here you see the skin.

  • You should.

  • Ju: Oh, wow.

  • It's like, you know when these people have really terrible,

  • like, 1970s walls, where they, yeah.

  • Guðjón: I know what you mean.

  • Ju: Yeah, it's like sandpaper.

  • [both laugh]

  • But yeah, this is really rough.

  • Guðjón: This was used for, in Iceland,

  • this was used for sandpaper.

  • And these points, if you look closely,

  • you see the points in the skin.

  • They grow in one direction.

  • Do you see that? Ju: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

  • Guðjón: And so these points, they grow down with his body.

  • So when he swims,

  • he gets this sort of thin layer of air around him.

  • There's always air around him.

  • So it's easier for him to swim and to get faster.

  • And it also works like, gives him a little bit

  • more insulation in a cold ocean.

  • Ju: It's the meatiest fish I've ever seen, yeah.

  • Guðjón: Here we have a piece of the fillet.

  • And in the drying, the piece,

  • it gets this dried crust around it.

  • But you see here, when I slice it open,

  • that he still has this beautiful white color at the inside.

  • And here the meat is ready to eat.

  • So there is never nothing added to this meat

  • in the process. There's no cooking.

  • There's no smoking. Like, nothing at all.

  • Just, it's just natural process,

  • from the beginning till the end.

  • And then, if I...

  • you see how smoothly it cuts.

  • And then you take this here.

  • Ju: Thank you.

  • It looks like ham.

  • Guðjón: Yeah.

  • And then I'll have one also.

  • Ju: Cheers. Guðjón: Skál.

  • Ju: Skál, OK.

  • Mm.

  • I was gonna say, it actually doesn't,

  • it's, the aftertaste is kicking in now, yeah.

  • Guðjón: And now you feel it, it's coming up in your nose.

  • Then it's doing what we want it to do.

  • We want it to give us, like, a kick.

  • It's supposed to be strong.

  • Ju: I can taste the ammonia kind of smell now.

  • At first it was just like chewing a piece of ham.

  • And then, like, you know, the texture of it in your mouth.

  • And then the aftertaste.

  • And then it's actually, like, stinging my tongue,

  • stinging the back of my tongue.

  • Do you ever get over that?

  • It's like eating bread to you now?

  • Guðjón: Everything you feel is probably

  • 10 times more than what I feel.

  • For me, I kind of, I sort of miss it.

  • But I know good shark from a bad one.

  • Two sharks who arrive here together,

  • they go through the process together.

  • After the process, they taste similar, but not the same.

  • It is the, not even amount of ammonia maybe in them,

  • or salt, or other chemicals that are different.

  • So that's why they don't taste the same.

  • Ju: Yeah. You can taste the smell of it.

  • But it's that really kind of, like,

  • rich Stilton cheese,

  • like, hits the back of your tongue.

  • And it's just at the sides of your tongue.

  • I don't think that's ever gonna go away, maybe, but.

  • Guðjón: You want some more?

  • Ju: I'll have a little bit more, yeah.

  • Guðjón: You'll have a little bit more.

  • Ju: I mean, I think that my tongue's just used to this now.

  • I'm a shark convert.

  • It's amazing, though, how much of it is in the smell.

  • Guðjón: Yeah. Ju: It's just, yeah.

  • So, would you recommend eat it before smelling it?

  • Just go down the hatch? Guðjón: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

  • It tastes much better than it smells.

  • Ju: OK.

  • Guðjón: I'll have another one also.

  • Ju: All right, I'm just gonna try to chew this a bit.

  • I do actually, it's the texture now.

  • At first it was the smell, then the taste.

  • Now it's the texture, it's like, got into

  • almost like a gelatinous kind of texture in my mouth.

  • I think it's because I've just, like,

  • masticated it so much in my mouth

  • that it's just, there we go, I got over it.

  • Guðjón: The second one was also a little bit bigger.