Can You Eat Shark: What Every Angler Should Know about Shark Meat
You hooked a shark, you’re hungry and now you’re wondering… can you eat shark? The answer is yes. In fact, shark has been a long-standing food source with its origins dating all the way back to the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) in China. Today, it’s still a common food in places across the globe. You can find shark in soups, grilled, barbecued, in tacos, as steaks, on kebabs and even as jerky. But, before shark becomes edible (and enjoyable), there are a few essential things every angler should know.
When fishing for shark to eat, preparation begins the moment you hook the shark and long before it’s in your boat or on the beach. This is because a shark fighting your line can exhaust easily which can cause it to weaken and begin to deteriorate.
The more exhausted a shark gets, the more lactic acid and carbon dioxide there is in the blood and muscles — all of which can affect the taste of the meat.
As a rule of thumb, the less trauma a shark or any fish goes through before and during slaughter, the higher quality the meat. You’ll want to reel in the shark as fast as possible to ensure it isn’t in an exhausted and deteriorated state by the time it hits your boat or the beach.
As a shark deteriorates the urea in their blood immediately begins to break down into ammonia which then gets absorbed in the flesh and expelled through the skin of the animal. In other words, sharks urinate through their skin.
This is why shark meat that hasn’t been prepped quickly and effectively can smell and taste like ammonia — not an appetizing flavor.
To avoid ammonia taste in the meat, once you land a shark, it’s imperative you bleed it, gut it and clean it as soon as possible.
To do this, start by cutting the spine near the front of the gills to kill the shark and begin bleeding out the gills. Then cut the shark's tail to sever the caudal artery or cut the tail completely off. Keep in mind that a good quality filet knife is a must, due to the shark's leathery skin.
As the shark’s heart slows it will pump the remaining blood from the animal. Once bled, gut the shark and immediately put it on ice. Once that’s complete, you’re ready to transfer your catch to your kitchen or wherever you plan on breaking it down.
Before filleting your fish consider whether or not you plan on keeping the shark’s skin on your cuts. Some anglers suggest removing the skin with a pair of needle-nose pliers at the start of breaking down the animal.
Other anglers suggest filleting the shark with skin on, cutting a few millimeters past the skin to remove the skin and the outermost layers of the flesh which are more red and contain more blood. A third option is to keep the shark’s skin on the fillets and remove after the meat has been cooked.
Once your shark has been filleted, place your pieces in a pan or tub with pure lemon juice or buttermilk to help draw out the flavor of ammonia from the flesh of the shark. When using lemon juice, don’t keep your fillet in the solution for too long or the acid in the lemon juice will start cooking the meat.
How long you soak the shark depends on the size of the filets, with the typical range being from 5 to 10 minutes for lemon juice and up to 24 hours for buttermilk. After your fillets soak, they’re ready to be cooked or placed in a bag and put in the freezer.
Not all sharks make for good eating, but there are a few that top the tasty list according to anglers, including: Mako, Thresher, Sevengill, Soupfin, Leopard, Dogfish, Shovelnose, and Blacktip.
Mako tops the list of most popular edible sharks with a flavor comparable to swordfish.
Some anglers believe sharks in their middle years of life taste the best with older shark’s meat being tough and tight, and younger sharks having little meat to offer, although tender.
It’s important to note the FDA lists sharks as a species containing high levels of mercury. Although mercury in seafood isn't a concern for most adults, some precautions can apply for pregnant woman.
Before heading out to fish for sharks, it’s a good idea to research the different species you’re likely to catch. Some sharks species are abundant and edible, but many species aren’t and should be released.
Fishing for and catching sharks can be a thrilling experience for any angler, and getting to take your catch home for dinner could make the experience even sweeter. Although shark isn’t as traditional of a meal as fish, with the right handling, preparations, and cooking, shark can become a delicious addition to your favorite seafood recipes. So the next time someone asks you "can you eat shark", you can confidently tell them yes.
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