Simon Courtauld

Shark ascending

Shark ascending

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The first barracuda to be caught in British waters was landed at Newlyn, Cornwall four years ago. This summer giant fin whales have been spotted off the Pembrokeshire coast. The evidence of these alien visitors may be attributable to global warming, or to changes in the flow of ocean currents, but it makes one wonder if it may be only a matter of time before a fearsome great white shark moves up the Atlantic from its present killing grounds on the South African coast to the bathing beaches of north Cornwall (from where, watching a school of porpoises not being chased by a shark, I am writing this month).

I have fished for blue shark off this coast, and I remember once seeing a huge basking shark close to the boat from which we were fishing for mackerel. (Basking sharks are quite harmless, except if they happen to surface beneath your boat, which may be a good deal smaller than they are.) Porbeagle shark, which is commonly found in the north Atlantic (and is the one illustrated here), is said to make the best eating, while the mako shark, which lives in warmer waters, is popular in America.

Those who turn up their noses at the idea of eating shark may have been misled into believing that it has an unpleasant taste and is probably indigestible as well. A 19th-century writer on fish found in British waters stated that shark was used only for manure. And it is odd to find Larousse, in one dismissive sentence on shark, making a rare misjudgment, while being amusingly politically incorrect: ‘The flesh of the shark, though very tough, is used as a foodstuff by the Lapps and by some negro peoples who are very partial to it.’ This is nonsense: the flesh is not only not tough, it is often enjoyed by the French who refer to it as ‘veau de mer’.

Such a comparison is explained by the pale colour of the flesh, by its tenderness and, because sharks are cartilaginous, the absence of bones. It is therefore most frequently sold, like tuna and swordfish, in steaks. The other day I dipped a few chunks of porbeagle shark in flour and egg, then coated them with a mixture of breadcrumbs, chopped anchovy fillets and parsley. After frying them in butter and oil and adding lemon juice, the result was judged to be very satisfactory, with a texture and flavour quite like swordfish or tuna — or even veal. Some books refer to the dryness of the shark’s flesh and advise larding it with bacon fat.

I like the idea of the recipe provided by Alan Davidson, the distinguished author of seafood books, from his time as British ambassador in Laos. Garlic is fried with coriander leaves, puréed tomato and fresh lime juice, then poured over pieces of shark which are baked with a sprinkling of dried chili pepper. For something hotter, Rick Stein recommends shark vindaloo, made with a fiery curry paste, fried onions and tomatoes and deseeded green chilies. A little water is added to the pan and the shark is simmered in the sauce for about ten minutes.

Shark’s fin soup I am happy to leave to the Chinese. Having seen a bowl last week in a Chinese restaurant, I decided to go for the razor clams and soft-shell crabs instead, which were not only more appealing but cheaper, too. I would also advise against shark p