Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Hawthornes Continue Their Taste-Testing Study Of Cape Shark At Café Lachine.

 Welcome to Part 2 of a 3-part series.  Previously, we'd had dinner at Café Lachine by invitation from the NC Sea Grant extension program as participants in a consumer taste-testing study for cape shark, or spiny dogfish.  For our first session, please click here.  

 Again, we were allowed rather spartan palate cleansers - unsalted saltines and room-temperature, de-ionized water - so as not to experience any sensory fatigue.  I arrived at Café Lachine already "suffering" from a bit of sensory overload, so I was good to go.

Here are the results from our first Sensory Panel Session:

Tonight, we learned about the biology of the cape shark from Sara Mirabilio of the NC Sea Grant program.

Biologically, sharks are fish.  They are a type of fish. There are bony fish,  belonging to the Class Osteichthyes, also known as teleosts.   And there are cartilaginous fish (including sharks, rays, and chimeras) of the Class Chondrichthyes, which have skeletons made of cartilage.

Spiny dogfish or cape shark do have spines on their dorsal fins and the spines are mildly poisonous.  Their snouts are long, slender, and flat.  They sport a brownish-gray top and a white bottom.  This is quite common in fish and is called countershading - a type of camouflage.  They have little white spots on the side which they lose as they age.  The males run up to about 3 feet long and the females get a little larger - up to 4 feet weighing between 7 to 10 pounds, which will yield about 2 pounds of fillets.  Cape sharks have a late maturation, a drawn-out gestation, and low fertility or fecundity.  The majority of species live 20-30 years, although some have lived 40 years and some have reached 100.  Females reach maturity at 12 years old, males at 6.  Mating usually occurs offshore in coastal waters and it's usually during the winter months.  Fertilization happens internally and the long gestation period is anywhere from 18 to 24 months.  The young are born alive, but they are not completely live-bearers.  They are ovoviviparous, meaning there is internal fertilization, producing eggs that hatch within the body so that the young are born live, but there is no placental connection and the young are nourished by a yolk sac that is connected to them.  A litter can be anywhere from one to fifteen pups, averaging six to seven, and range from eight to twelve inches long.

Cape shark have been known to go as far south as Florida, but generally they are a cold water species.   They are primarily found in the northwest Atlantic from Nova Scotia to Cape Hatteras.  They travel north in the spring and summer for cooler waters, then come south for the winter to hang out in coastal waters, fertilize, and birth their pups in shallower water.

They are mainly bottom-dwelling, called epibenthic, although they've been known to go close to the surface when chasing prey.  They range from near continental shelf waters to depths of 3000 feet.  They can tolerate brackish water, but can't deal with fresh water.  They prefer full salt water.

Despite their small size, cape shark are super aggressive.  They have a reputation for relentlessly pursuing their prey.  The spiny part of their name, as I said, comes from physical spines on the fish.  The dog part of their name comes from the fact that they feed in packs, like dogs, circling their prey as a group, sometimes as many as 100 in a pack.  Younger fish tend to eat crustaceans and small invertebrates.  They eat a lot of jelly fish, shrimp, squid and crabs, though they will go after a fish 2-3 times their size because they are so aggressive.

Cape shark is a great source of lean protein and it's very cost-effective.  They contain a good amount of Omega-3s, ranking right up with salmon and tuna.  They also have a compound called squalamine which has strong antibiotic and anti-cancerous properties.  Interestingly, there has never been cancer found in sharks although there have been known to be cancers in other fish.

Sharks, being near the top of the food chain, are getting all the good stuff, but also all the bad stuff of whatever they're eating under them, called biomagnification, because you're magnifying the effects of different chemicals, such as mercury, as you go up the food chain with higher-order predators.

As for the peeing through their skin which I mentioned in my first post, cape sharks don't have a urinary tract like we do, so they concentrate urea in their blood and through simple osmosis, it's released through the skin.  Because of this, it's very important when a shark is caught to perform proper on-scene handling, not for a health hazard, but for the taste. They need to be gutted and bled at sea.  Getting the blood out of the body takes the urea out and any ammonia taste. 

 Now, on to the menu.
Our first course was New England Style Cape Shark Chowder, the base was a fumé made from cape shark parts, with local andouille sausage from Weeping Radish, potato, roasted corn, and grilled cape shark, thickened with a roux and finished with heavy cream.  Café Lachine knocked this one out of the ball park.   The soup was sublime - smooth, velvety texture, rich, luxurious.  

Our second course was a Smoked Shark Salad Cold Plate with mesquite-smoked cape shark, mixed green salad with fresh strawberries and a poppy seed dressing, pickled ramps, served with crostini.
I liked the smoked shark salad - very delicate flavor.  As for the dressing, I needed more of it.

A third course, our entrée, is a Cornmeal Crusted Cape Shark with tasso gravy, Southern-style green beans in bacon, and caramelized onion.  This was my least favorite, which surprised me, since last time, the fried cape shark was our favorite.  The crust didn't adhere to the fish, I thought it under-seasoned, and I didn't like the texture of the fish.  Too mushy for me. 
And my blood vein wasn't removed.

Looking forward to our third and last session, March 15.

No comments: