By Ari LeVaux
In the Chinatown section of Bangkok, years ago, I found the neighborhood of restaurants that specialize in shark fin soup, and ordered a bowl. I was curious what the big deal was all about, and that curiosity overwhelmed the strong ethical case against shark fin soup. My bowl of soup, which cost about 30 U.S. dollars, was bland and featureless. It was like eating salted water with a spoon. I felt completely unsatisfied and thoroughly icky, as if I’d gone into one of the many sleazy massage parlors in the area, and gotten a foot massage.
In the making of shark fin soup, the fin is often the only part of the animal that’s harvested, while the rest of the body is tossed back into the ocean. But with most fish for sale at your local market, it’s the opposite: The fins are thrown away, along with many other edible fish parts.
I’ve been a buyer of such refuse in recent months, including fish fins, which can be quite meaty. This new practice was inspired by a recent blood screening that found low levels of HDL—aka “good”—cholesterol, along with high levels of triglycerides, also known as too much fat in the blood. According to reams of data, both low HDL and high triglycerides can be remedied, counterintuitively, with fish oil, which has been shown to be so effective that many doctors will offer it as an alternative to statins, which can cause problems of their own. The active, beneficial ingredients in fish oil are the omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to have a host of other benefits, too, including lowering blood pressure. All of its benefits add up to reduced chances of heart attack, stroke and Alzheimer’s disease.
So, along with a pledge to get more exercise and eat less dessert, I decided to incorporate fish oil into my diet. But instead of going for the supplement form of fish oil sold in capsules, I went straight to the source. I asked the fishmonger at my local market to set aside collars, bellies and fins—all of which are oily—when they are cutting up their whole fish.
Shark fin soup is often made with chicken stock, to add a little extra flavor. But as I’ve discovered lately with dorsal salmon fins of late, fin soup can be made to taste good.
Start by simmering the fins (or whatever) in water. If it starts to smell a bit fishy, don’t be afraid to change the water once or twice. When the last water changing is done, add some soup veggies, like carrots, onions, celery and potatoes. Simmer on low for at least two hours.
To serve, prepare each bowl with the following:
1 sheet of nori, crumbled
a pinch of grated garlic
a splash of soy sauce
a few slices of jalapeno (optional)
Pour or ladle the broth out of the pot and into the prepped bowls, and enjoy a simple, satisfying bowl of dorsal fin soup. It’s satisfying, cheap and good for your blood lipids.