[Sca-cooks] A curious question about the rotted meat mythos

Phil Troy / G. Tacitus Adamantius adamantius1 at verizon.net
Wed Mar 12 21:49:34 PDT 2008

On Mar 12, 2008, at 11:35 PM, S CLEMENGER wrote:

> I just saw a bit about that on PBS...It was actually really  
> interesting.  Apparently, the shark meat, raw, contains stuff that  
> would poison a human being (something ammonia-related), and the  
> prolonged, uh, process that the shark goes through renders it edible  
> for people.  The smell's apparently pretty awful though, because of  
> the ammonia-stuff leaching out.

Yes, ammonia does appear to be involved. Skates and rays often have to  
be processed to some extent before being eaten (nowadays it involves  
soaking it in something like milk, but in the bad old days of 19th  
century France some would hang a skate like game... others,  
contemporaries, I mean, argued against it. I believe the ammonia thing  
is most problematical when it's less-than-strictly-fresh but not bad.  
Basically you can take it from the water and immediately convert it to  
sashimi, or you have to do the soaking thing (in which case it's great  
for fish and chips).

>  The piece the fellow was using to test the doneness had an  
> appearance (on screen) of a solid, creamy-white cheese.  Didn't look  
> much at all like the raw stuff.

It's generally described by most non-Icelandic authorities (at least  
the ones not concerned with the question of rottenness) as resembling  
ripe Brie or Camembert. Maybe it's that we don't have enough of the  
right vocabulary in English to express differences between beneficial  
aging, intentional fermentation, and downright putridness, but I do  
think there's a tendency toward this sort of xenophobic superiority  
that leads us to describe things as rotten with no attempt to  
distinguish, say, haakarl or khli from something that's genuinely  
putrid garbage, while pretending [or experiencing genuine] ignorance  
of the bacterial action in foods like corned beef or salami. Whoa,  
watch out folks, that corned beef's fermented! Stand back! It could  
explode in a shower of disease-bearing maggots at any moment!


More information about the Sca-cooks mailing list