Bizarre Seafoods, Part Two

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Today we’ll be doing another one of our favorite types of articles – a tour of some of the most bizarre-yet-pleasurable seafoods the world has to offer. Take a trip throughout the continents and learn about the very strange yet very delicious seafood treats you’ve been missing all along. First up on the list in this edition of bizarre seafoods is Seafood Haggis.

Seafood Haggis – Unless you’re very deeply in touch with your Scottish ancestry, should you even have any, you’ve probably never tried haggis, even it is traditional form. You’ve likely heard of it before and have connotations in your mind of the inedible when you hear this word, but have you ever wondered exactly what it is? Well, we’ll give you a quick summary of it.

The outer portion of haggis is comprised of a sheep’s stomach. This sheep stomach is packed full of organ meats such as hearts, livers, and kidneys. Aside from this, it also contains oatmeal, rice, chopped onions, suet, salt, lamb meat and stock, and a myriad of spices. At this point, you may be asking, “This sounds pretty terrible, but what does this have to do with seafood?”

Here’s your answer: in Scotland, as well as in several other countries, people like to get experimental with their haggis. This has led to seafood variations in which oysters, clams, mussels, cod, and haddock have become central ingredients in place of the lamb meat. In some cases, even the internal organs mentioned before will be derived from various aquatic species.

Maybe we haven’t done the best job on selling haggis to you as a viable food source, but as bad as it sounds, it actually tastes pretty good. It’s definitely an acquired taste though and many people won’t be able to get beyond the list of ingredients to bring themselves to actually try it out.

Shark Fin Soup – Shark fin soup is available worldwide, but is most popular in China and is the second bizarre seafood concoction we’ll be talking about today. In China, this is something that is considered to be a high delicacy and is most frequently served at big events such as weddings and large formal banquets.

Shark fin soup was first served in China during the Ming Dynasty and is considered to be one of the eight treasured food from the sea among the Chinese1. it became more popular in the 1800s and started to pop up in more places and more countries throughout the globe.

To prepare the shark fins, they are first cleaned and then skinned, before having their scales removed. After this, they are chopped up into small enough pieces to make them a suitable size for the serving bowls in which the soup will be presented. In some cases, bleaching of the fins also takes place in order to give them a more radiant and ostensibly more appetizing color.

If you’re in Asia, you don’t always have to make this meal for yourself. Many food stores will sell freshly prepared shark fin soup and still others will sell it in cans. When it comes to taste, the fins of the sharks are actually very mild. They present a very chewy texture, but the flavor is not overpowering by any means. Most of the flavor in shark fin soup actually comes from the fish stock that is used as its broth. There are some nutritional benefits to be had in eating a bowl of shark fin soup, mostly coming in the form of riboflavin, zinc, and iron.

Razor Clams – There are actually four different types of razor clams. These varieties include Atlantic Jackknife clams, Razor shells, Pacific razor clams, and Gould’s razor shells. Since they’re the ones found closest to home (at least for us), we’ll be focusing on the Atlantic Jackknife clam.

The Atlantic Jackknife clam is also known as the Bamboo clam and in some cases, is simply referred to as a Razor clam. For the sake of convenience, the latter is what we’ll be calling them in this article. Have you ever walked along a beach at low tide and spotted long, thin shells that didn’t look like they’d contain any shellfish you’d eaten before? If the answer is yes, then you’ve seen razor clams, or at the very least you’ve seen their shells.

These clams tend to live in the northern portion of the Atlantic Ocean, rarely traveling much further south than South Carolina. They do tend to spread out pretty far in terms of east vs west, as they are found on both North American and European shores. Their name comes from their resemblance to old fashioned straight razors, and their very thin form proves beneficial in many ways.

Due to their thin size and long, powerful foot, razor clams are able to swim about freely, unlike most other clam species. They also have the ability to dig holes and create burrows beneath the sand at amazing rates of speed. When fishermen seek out razor clams, one of the first things they look for is the presence of small holes in the sand that have a shape somewhat like a keyhole. When they find these, there’s a good chance that there is a razor clam lurking below. These clams can move so quickly that they prove quite a challenge to catch, even when they are located since they can dig the holes more deeply and burrow further away at faster speeds than most people can dig through the sand to reach them.

In the relatively rare cases where a razor clam is caught, they are usually chopped up (though sometimes left whole) and are cleaned and subsequently deep fried in clam strip form. Humans aren’t the only species who enjoy dining on these evasive bivalves. Seagulls also love to eat a razor clam when they get the chance.

Stinkheads¬†– Stinkheads are a type of long-preserved and often fermented fish that are most commonly eaten in Alaska. There isn’t really one designated fish used in this capacity, but salmon is among the most frequent candidates. The term stinkhead refers to the fact that it is the head of the fish that is preserved and eaten. Also, stinkheads more than deliver when it comes to the odor-based part of their name.

Basically, the modus operandi here is to cut the head off of a fish and then bury it in a pit where it is left to rot for weeks and sometimes months. This results in the fish fermenting, but also works in making it last longer as a food source, for better or worse.

We say “for better or worse” mainly because if the fish heads are left to rot for too long or not properly cleaned, one can become very ill from eating them. Bacterial infections, severe intestinal disturbances, and botulism are among the top health concerns that are involved with eating stinkheads. Due to this, Alaska has one of the highest rates of botulism in America, despite being the state with the second lowest population. Wyoming is the only state to beat out Alaska when it comes to lack of residents.

Botulism is a very serious disease and is certainly not a laughing matter. If infected, paralysis and sometimes even death can occur. Early symptoms of botulism include great fatigue, a general feeling of weakness, difficulty speaking and disturbances in vision. If you have eaten stinkheads and experience any of these symptoms, please get to a hospital as soon as possible.

Agutak¬†– Agutak, alternately spelled as Akutaq is another bizarre seafood dish that is popular in Alaska. Eaten primarily by indigenous Yupik people, agutak is commonly referred to as “Eskimo ice cream” by most people. One of the notable features that sets Eskimo ice cream apart from all other kinds of ice cream is that it does not contain any cream, nor any other dairy product for that matter.

The base of agutak is provided by whale, seal, or walrus fat which is cleaned and then put through a whipping process. After this, the fat is mixed in with several other ingredients which truly run the gamut and present combinations that most people would consider to be extreme culinary dissonance. Even the Yupik people admit this, as in their language, agutak means “something mixed2“.

Some of the other ingredients in this “something mixed” include sugar, chunks of fish meat, root fragments, leaves, cranberries, blueberries, cloudberries, and seal oil. It is then iced until a texture not completely unlike that of regular ice cream is achieved. Unless you’ve grown up with the stuff, this is a dessert that will throw a major curve ball at your tastebuds. We recommend trying it if you are ever lucky enough to visit Alaska, because when you think about it, how many people can say they’ve eaten Eskimo ice cream? And no, Eskimo pies don’t count.

Panko-Breaded Fried Razor Clams

Ingredients: 6 razor clams, 1/3 cup of vegetable oil, 2 eggs, salt, pepper, and garlic powder (all to taste), 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese, 1 cup of panko bread crumbs, 1 cup of flour3 Directions: 1. Obtain a baking sheet and cover it with wax paper. 2. Beat the eggs together in a small bowl. In another bowl, stir together the salt, pepper and garlic powder. Place the shredded Parmesan in a third bowl. 3. Extract the clams from their shells and coat them thoroughly in flour. Dip the clams into the beaten eggs, seasoning mixture, Parmesan, and finally the panko crumbs. Press the panko crumbs in firmly. After this, place them on the baking sheet referred to in step one. 4. Put the vegetable oil into a frying pan and set the burner to medium-high heat. Place the clams into the oil and cook them for about one minute on each side. Shoot for a golden color for the clams and make sure that they’re cooked through. Conversely, be careful not to overcook them as they will become very hard and lose much of their flavor3.

Works Cited 1. Author Unavailable Shark Fin Soup http://www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shark_fin_soup 2. Author Unavailable Akutaq- Eskimo Ice Cream http://www.icecreamnation.com/2013/11/akutaq-eskimo-ice-cream 3. Danigirl Pakno-Breaded Deep Fried Razor Clams AllRecipes.com http://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/panko-breaded-fried-razor-clams

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