This week we had family in town. My wife’s aunt and uncle came in, and along with them her uncle brought something his brother had shipped him from Iceland. Hákarl.
I’ll leave most of this post to the letter we received along with the Hákarl as it really does the job well describing what we got to eat…
This Icelandic delicacy combines all the worst qualities of fish and window cleaner. The ammonia overwhelms almost entirely. Considered a cure for just about everything from bad skin to cancer, Icelanders eat full servings of this stuff. Eating it simultaneously with dark bread lessens the ammonia hit. It’s common to down this shark with a shot of ice cold schnapps. Icelanders prefer a brand of licorice schnapps called “Black Death.”
The shark is a Greenland Shark. They can weigh over a ton and live longer than any other vertebrate – over 200 years. Throughout that time they never urinate, allowing toxic chemicals to build up in their bodies, that make them hazardous to eat. Only through the fermentation process can these chemicals be removed.
The sharks are only processed in the winter. They are curt into slabs and laid in a wooden box with lots of air circulation and the box is left to the elements for 6 weeks. Then the slabs are hung in an open barn for six months until they are ready.
Don’t eat the rind. It won’t hurt you. It’s like a cheese rind.
Indeed, this did have the worst qualities of fish and window cleaner. Opening the air tight sealed bag immediately released a near deadly level smell of rancid fish and ammonia. We immediately opened all the windows and turned on all the fans… This smell lasted in the house through the next day.
The rind was incredibly tough. We had to pull out some of my mother in law’s extra sharp ceramic knives to cut through it. Once through the rind, the actual shark meat was very tender.
Taste wise, it wasn’t as bad as the smell… but it wasn’t too far off. The smell is so horrific, you pretty much don’t get much relief from it while tasting the Hákarl. It first had a really strong fish flavor with a hit of nuttiness, but continuing to chew released the rancid ammonia flavoring. I had to spit it out. My gag reflex started kicking in hard, and I fought back the contents of my stomach.
This IS the worst thing I’ve ever tasted.
It takes someone as hardcore as a Viking to eat something like this on a regular basis… and for a country in a sub polar region filled with volcanos, glaciers, and Björk, it make sense that they would choose to assault themselves with such a foul delicacy.
(My wife’s Uncle – not a Viking…)