Icelandic Delicacies: Puffin, Whale, Foal and Fermented Shark

The Atlantic Puffin forms part of the national diet in Iceland, where the species does not have legal protection. Puffins are hunted by a technique called “sky fishing”, which involves catching low-flying birds with a big net. The meat is smoked and cured. It is featured routinely on restaurants menus.

Smoked puffin

Foal tataki with parsley root purée, pickled red cabbage and smoked mushrooms

Hákarl or kæstur hákarl (Icelandic for “fermented shark”)  is a Greenland or basking shark head which has been cured through a  fermentation process while burried in sand  and hung to dry for four to five months. Hákarl  has a pungent ammonia-rich smell and  a  fishy taste. Not my idea of a treat!

Shark brought to the table in a sealed jar at Laekjarbrekka

The most surprising menu item of all was of course the grilled steak of minke whale with mashed potatoes and brennivin sauce. Brennivin, also called svarti dauði , or black death is an Aquavit type schnapps made from potato pulp flavored with caraway seeds. The whale meat was incredibly light, tasty, and tender, not the least fishy, likely the best meat I ever had. Minke  are small baleen whales.

Grilled steak of minke whale with mashed potatoes and brennivin sauce Restaurant Laekjarbrekka in Reykjavik

For another recipe of Minke whale steak, click here.

For more on Minke whale meat click here.

A potential source of meat, systematic whaling was not possible in Iceland until the late 19th century due to the lack of ocean-going ships. Small whales were hunted close to the shore with the small rowboats used for fishing. When Iceland started commercial whaling  in the early 20th century  whale meat became popular as a low-priced red meat which can be prepared like beef. When Iceland withdrew from the International Whaling Commission  in 1992, commercial whaling stopped but some whale meat could still be found in specialised stores coming from small whales accidentally caught in nets or beached. In 2002, Iceland rejoined the IWC and commercial whaling started again in 2006. Whale meat is thus commonly available, although the price has gone up due to the cost of whaling itself.

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One Response to Icelandic Delicacies: Puffin, Whale, Foal and Fermented Shark

  1. Many thanks for sharing this fantastic article. Please keep up this blog as it’s one of my favorite blog in my reader, thanks

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