Hákarl - an icelandic 'delicacy'(Why do you think I made one of the main heroes in the Heirs of Alexandria series an Icelandic warrior... The book, by the way, is finished, finally today.) AKA - fermented raw basking shark, which is just plain toxic fresh, and smells like it is supposed to be used for industrial floor-cleaning is perhaps one of the extreme examples of cultural food acclimatisation (and eating it is supposed to be sign of manliness! (hur, gung ho. I c'n drink ammonia.) and like many things (Surströmming and Kusaya spring to mind - yes I have come across both. I'm a foodie who worked with fish) it's one of those love it or hate it things. And people get very very heated about them...
While not, thank heavens, in quite the same league as Hákarl, muttonbird tends to have the same reputation. For islanders who have grown up with it, well, it's a delicacy. Many incomers - and some islanders - won't even have it cooked in their kitchens swearing the smell lasts for six months or so.
Let's be frank(incence) it's... fairly powerful. smoky-fishy. Um well, very fishy. Okay since you press me VERY VERY pungent. And, er, enduring. I'm not willing to give it 6 months, but outside cooking is prolly not a badly thought-out idea, because you will smell it in bed. Tomorrow, unless you have a good air-extractor.
Curiously, the meat itself is not too fishy. Just the fat, and there is a lot of it. Very full of all those omega three fatty acids. The best answer is to barbeque it. And as the book was finished I decided the time had come to test how Islander my family were. Of course the downside of this is that Australia is very like South Africa in many cultural ways, but some ass introduced the idea of cooking on gas barbeques instead of a 'braai'. For a South African he-man to admit that he cooks on gas... well he's more likely to have one of those little handbag-purse things the French seem to consider manly, and to tell all his friends he loves going for a pedicure and facial as they talk over the Rugby. Or as likely as an Icelandic skald to tell you hates Hákarl. Even the likes of me who stopped worrying about what his fellow men thought of his masculinity thirty years back, wouldn't touch one except to fry eggs and bacon on... because, frankly, they fail at the basic reason for cooking over a fire - which naturally is the cremated bits and flavours from the wood-smoke or even charcoal ( I cheat and mix the two, but purists swear by various woods. I might too, if I was that pissy, or had the option, maybe). You might as well cook inside on a stove as on gas.Yes, there is a fire risk. And there is taste disaster. They're convenient IMO, but nothing like as nice as the real thing. But I think I have found the closet reason for this use of gas. A lot of products in Oz lead SA by a country mile, but every now and again you find something they screwed up here... and lead contender outside of Telstra (with a special mention for exceptional achievement to the Eastlands Mall Telstra shop in Hobart as the single worst shopping experience I have ever had) has to be these things called 'heat beads' which are to a good briquette what the hardness of a marshmellow is to steel bar. Okay, grumble, maybe just what we got on the island and they're just wonderful everywhere else. I lit these. And then I lit them again. Then I 'phoned the Fireys and told them not to panic, Victoria wasn't on fire, just 30 heat beads in a safe stainless steel container on concrete with 5 yards of wet grass around them... were doing the smoke-dance of a Chinese brown coal fired power-plant... each. It took a good 40 minutes to put out the same amount of heat as a car cigarette-lighter - by which stage the average pyromanic South African would be singing his eyebrows off with a douse of meths or petrol (adds that je ne se quoi to your cremated meat.)
But I have the answer. There is help at hand
Bloody 'eck. If there ever was a good reason for cooking over a gas grill it's got be the effect of muttonbird fat on heat beads. The flames got about 3 feet high. There is NO WAY I am cooking these things inside a house on a gas stove for 'elf an safety reasons -- and you all know how I deeply approve these nanny things. Anyone who is dumb enough to cook these near naked lights indoors deserves the house to catch. And the happy South African habit of beer marianade-fire douse would have lots of sour faces and empty beer bottles. You could run a truck on muttonbird fat I reckon (I'm tempted. The delight of driving the exhaust scent down a city street... or stopping next to your friendly traffic policeman would almost be worth it.)
There is of course one dire danger cooking them outdoors. It is the so called 'hot dog' AKA Roland who decided that muttonbird fat was just the most decious thing in the entire universe and was so frantic to get at the splatter that I was terrified the droplets on his back might combust.
The dogs LOVE muttonbird. They cleaned the concrete. They got a broth made from the bones and scraps on their blocks and voted it wolfed down, and the braai - flames and all - had to be guarded. They sat and drooled at us cooking.
The cats feel that anything that combines their best food - fish, with their second best - fowl, has to be a win. But please do not cook it!
James had an uncertain start, and then got into it, and ate one and a half, and Paddy ate ?4 well, lots.
For the record, it's MUCH nicer over charcoal - even these rubbish heat beads - than it was over gas. More of a flambeaux hassle to cook, but worth it.