Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles 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.