Cape Shark Cookalong
Chef Seth Foutz explores the potential of a shark that Outer Banks folks don’t typically eat, but should.
story by Amy Gaw
photographs by Daniel Pullen
When Taylor Aiken of Jeffrey’s Seafood walks in the back door of Ketch 55 Seafood Grill in Avon carrying a waxed cardboard box filled with four spiny dogfish, it’s such a monumental occasion that there’s a crowd in the kitchen to greet him.
Though the spiny dogfish — now officially known as cape shark — is caught in abundance by Outer Banks fishermen, this is the first time (that we know of) the species has been delivered to a restaurant door. People around here don’t typically eat this species of shark, but Chef Seth Foutz is about to change that.
Foutz expertly sets to the task of breaking down the shark and plotting their preparation, fluidly navigating between the gas stove, the walk-in refrigerator and the fish-cleaning sink. He’s letting me cook along with him, and our goal is to taste and explore the culinary potential of the cape shark.
With us are Jeff Aiken, Taylor’s dad and owner of Jeffrey’s Seafood in Hatteras; photographer Daniel Pullen; Outer Banks Magazine editor Molly Harrison; and Ketch 55 owner Jomie Price. Except for Foutz, none of us had ever eaten cape shark on the Outer Banks.
Aiken was the first person to introduce me to the economic benefits of this often-misunderstood local catch. Earlier in the year he explained that the eating was good and the cape shark was abundantly sustainable and already on the radar of local watermen.
I had a lot of questions and did a bit of research before we even walked into the kitchen.
Apparently, local watermen catch and dealers sell a lot of these sharks, but most local diners have never tasted a bite, and most recreational, and even many commercial, fishermen return them to the water. I wanted to know more about why locals aren’t already eating this local sustainable species, and knew that Foutz and Aiken were the people with whom to explore the mystery.
“How do you know about cooking dogfish?” Aiken asks Foutz once we are all standing, with permission, around the executive chef’s stove. With an impish head nod and shoulder shrug, Foutz replies, “I’m curious.”
“I wish people wouldn’t get so set on catching a rockfish that they cannot celebrate catching a dogfish. They need to take it home and try it.” — Chef Seth Foutz
“We are a fishin’ family,” Foutz continues “All of us. Teresa, our son Alexander and even our dog Beowulf, and we like to eat what we catch, so I have tried a lot of different types of fish that most people release.”
“We do teach our son about releasing fish, too,” he is quick to clarify. “It is important for him to understand that his bragging rights will not sustain our ocean.”
Using the entire catch is important to Foutz professionally too, whether he’s working with a fish, a shark or a crustacean, and our day in the kitchen is no different. As we talk, he quickly breaks down the shark into fillets and steaks. One of the sharks weighs 7½ pounds whole and yielded almost 2½ pounds of meat. He then carries all of the skin, fins, head and remaining scraps to a stockpot and drops them in with a handful of veggies and a few quarts of cold water before lighting the burner.
Returning to the cutting board, he cuts a few of the fillets into bite-sized pieces for a quickly marinated ceviche, and we remark that the texture would be perfect for sashimi and sushi. A squeeze of citrus and a bit of sea salt confirm it.
As we talk about the higher than expected yield after the shark is cleaned, I remark that the tail steaks looked a bit like oxtails and in no time the aroma of curry-infused shark stock fills the air. Improvisation, baby. Foutz then creates a light yet intensely flavorful shark tail curry.
“Be spontaneous and let your product work for you,” he says, “and never be afraid to improvise.”
Plenty of leftover curried shark stock is available for future dishes, and he scrapes bits of meat from the cartilage, belly flap and head to save for another day.
“Who knows what I will do with it?” he says. “Once I get ready and start cooking, I have no idea what will happen! That is what keeps it fun and keeps me sustained.”
“It can keep us all sustained,” Aiken adds. “Be sure to credit the folks who brought in this meal. Shannon Dunn, a young and talented fisherwoman, and James Caldwell, a crusty ol’ salty dog, caught these dogfish and made a donation. We all understand how important it is to share current ideas about sustainable fishing. This community has a lot of potential with this shark.”
In 2014, tons of locally landed cape shark were sold to processors in the Northeast who then re-sold most of the cleaned product for use in shark-fin soups in Asia and for fish-and-chips–type dishes throughout Europe. Here in the United States, the cartilage is marketed in powder form as an anti-inflammatory and is studied in cancer research laboratories. There is little waste.
Intrigued by the notion of fish and chips and desirous for a hot, crispy preparation of the cape shark, Foutz decides on an easy-to-assemble Warm Niçoise Salad topped with pan-fried cape shark, all drizzled with a lemony brown butter sauce.
Like other sharks, spiny dogfish have a skeleton made of cartilage instead of bone. When properly handled, cape shark fillets are lean, mild and firm with a slightly sweet flavor. They are not flaky, like their cousins the mako or black tip. From a marketing perspective, they have the advantage of being a truly boneless protein, a boon for chefs.
Marketing was the reason for the name change from spiny dogfish to cape shark. Since the 1980s, fishery-industry leaders have acknowledged that the major impediment in getting spiny dogfish to the table has been the name, not the flavor. Consumers did not respond well to eating food they associated with a family pet.
To counter this negative perception, the seafood industry petitioned the FDA, which recently authorized the more consumer-friendly name cape shark. Local watermen, fish houses and distributors are now hoping to capitalize on the relatively high quotas and potential increase in market demand.
According to NOAA’s Fishwatch (www.fishwatch.gov), cape shark was classified as overfished in 1998, and fishery managers implemented strict regulations to rebuild the stock. Today the shark is classified as sustainable, and in the winter and early spring cape shark school near the deep waters along the continental shelf and are readily available for local watermen to catch.
Because a fishery manages it, confusion often occurs about whether the spiny dogfish is a fish or a shark. Atlantic spiny dogfish (Squalus acanthias) are really sharks, and they are plentiful from North Carolina to Nova Scotia and are managed by heavily regulated fisheries. They weigh, on average, 8 to 10 pounds, and are grayish brown on top with subtle white spots, a white belly and a body shape similar to other sharks with a slightly rounded, pointy snout. They have two sharp dorsal fins, each with a venom-filed spine that can leave a human hand stinging. They do not have sharp, pointy, teeth like most sharks; theirs are smaller and almost flat.
Some locals have eaten cape sharks for years, while many others have caught and released them because they had no idea how to prepare them for eating.
“People talk a lot about eating sustainable seafood,” Aiken says, “but they are not sure how that applies to what is on the menu or at the fish market or even at the end of their rod. Consumers forget that fish have seasons, too.
“People also like to order dishes that are familiar, so there is an education that has to occur,” he says. “If my waiter says cape shark is mild, with a soft texture like thick flounder? Ok. I’ll try it.”
Aiken says that the easiest way to get consumers to try a new seafood is if it comes at the recommendation of their favorite chef.
“They already have a trust level,” he says. “If they like it, then they’ll feel more confident buying it in a market and cooking it in their own kitchens.”
“And if people ask for it, I am more likely to cook it,” Foutz says as he sets three plates down on the table for us to sample.
We all agree, the cape shark ceviche is outstanding. Delicate and bright, the mildness of the shark is immediately apparent. Foutz reminds us, “When you clean a whole fish, ceviche is great way to use small scraps of meat, and this shark was no different.”
Eye-rolling and moans begin when we all start in on the shark-tail curry. The grilled steaks are held firmly together by a bit of cartilage only until the meat is gently pulled away with a fork. Delicate and mild, the shark almost melts in our mouths. The curry is complex, and a tiny bit of spice enhances the sweetness without overpowering the delicate flavor.
As we taste the third dish, we all immediately understand the allure of the cape shark for fish and chips. The mild, slightly sweet taste is phenomenal. Paired with a warm romaine salad, the crispy edged meat easily breaks apart with a fork while retaining enough firmness to carry it all the way to our mouths.
“I would definitely order this in a restaurant,” Pullen says as he alternates between tasting and shooting.
“Me, too,” Price says, “and I never imagined saying that!”
These recipes were crafted during a cookalong with Chef Seth Foutz of Ketch 55 Seafood Grill.
Cape shark is incredibly versatile and mild and can best be compared to thick flounder for its soft texture and to tilefish for its subtle sweetness. Depending on your service ware and style, these recipes will create an elegant or casual meal for two utilizing a single cape shark; you can easily double or triple them. Our test shark weighed about 7.5 pounds and yielded almost 2.5 pounds of fillets and steaks. — Amy Gaw
Cape Shark Ceviche
Juice of 2 fresh limes
1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, chopped
2 green onions, chopped
1 medium tomato, filleted and chopped
2 tablespoons good tequila
½ jalapeno, seeds removed and chopped
½ ounce sweet Thai chili sauce
1 ounce chopped cashews
Sea salt and cracked black pepper
8 ounce cape shark fillets, cut into bite-sized pieces
Mix the first 8 ingredients to form a marinade. Add fish, a touch of sea salt and a grind of pepper. Gently combine. Chill the ceviche in refrigerator for at least an hour, or as long as overnight. Serve on local greens with tortilla chips
Warm Cape Shark Nicoise Salad
Prepare the Shark
8 ounce fillets of cape shark
½ cup finely milled, heirloom cornmeal
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon seafood seasoning
Sea salt and cracked black pepper
¼ cup olive oil-grapeseed oil blend
Eggwash, 1 egg + 1 teaspoon milk, whisked
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly season fillets with sea salt and pepper. Combine cornmeal, flour and seafood seasoning in a shallow bowl. Using the dry-wet-dry method, dredge the shark in the cornmeal/flour mixture then into egg wash and then back into the dry ingredients.
In an oven-proof pan over medium-high heat, add 1 to 2 teaspoons of olive oil blend and then the coated shark. Fry on one side for 2 minutes until golden brown, flip gently and finish in oven for 4 to 5 minutes. Do not overload in the pan and use just enough to oil to pan fry not deep fry. If your pan looks dry when you flip, add just a little more oil.
Make the Warm Salad
¼ pound pork belly, diced
1 head romaine lettuce, cut in half lengthwise, lightly grilled, cooled and chopped
6 small skin-on new potatoes, boiled until tender, cut into quarters
8 stalks asparagus, cut on the bias, bite size
1 hard-boiled egg, chopped
8 cherry tomatoes, halved
12 black olives, pitted (optional)
Handful of chopped basil
1/8 cup unsalted butter
Juice of half a lemon
In a medium-size sauté pan, fry the pork belly until crisp and the fat is rendered. Add chopped potatoes and toss (or stir) to coat potatoes. After 2 or 3 minutes, add the hard-boiled egg and asparagus and toss to combine. Finish with tomatoes, olives and basil.
Remove fish from pan and let rest for a few minutes. Return the fish pan to a medium-hot flame and add butter and lightly brown. Watch it so it does not burn. Add lemon and sea salt and cracked black pepper to taste.
Portion hot salad into two bowls, top each with half the fish and drizzle brown butter over everything right before service.
Shark Tail Curry
Cape shark tail steaks, approximately 4 to 6, skin removed
1 cup snow peas, cut on bias
1 cup shiitake mushrooms
2 tablespoons sesame oil
10 cherry tomatoes
2 quarts cold water
1 white onion, chopped
2 stalks of celery
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon seafood seasoning
2 tablespoons Thai red curry paste
2 green onions
1 tablespoon sweet Thai chili
Sea salt and cracked black pepper
Chopped cilantro for garnish
1 cup of homemade fish stock, hot
Rice noodles, cooked
After removing the insides of the cape shark, use all the remaining scraps for the stock. Yes, that includes the head, the skin, the cartilage, the fins and the tail. Chef Foutz added his to a large stock-pot along with cold water, white onion, celery, bay leaves and seafood seasoning. Bring to boil, reduce heat to medium, simmer for at least 30 minutes and then add Thai red curry paste, green onions and jalapeno. Remove from heat and strain.
Note: Stock keeps for several days in the refrigerator and for several months in the freezer.
Marinate the Shark Tail Steaks
1 clove garlic, minced
1 green onion, minced
3 tablespoons good olive oil
1 teaspoon seafood seasoning
Juice of half a lime
Combine ingredients to create a marinade. Add the shark tail steaks and marinate in the refrigerator for at least an hour or up to overnight. They will look like white oxtails. About 30 minutes before service, fire up the grill and place the shark on a hot, well-seasoned part of the grill. Turning occasionally, cook for at least 10 minutes. The meat near the cartilage will turn opaque, and the outside should have nice grill marks. Set the fish aside to rest while you finish the dish.
Bring It Together
In a hot sauté pan, heat sesame oil to just hot then add shiitake mushrooms, toss and cook for 2 minutes. Add tomatoes, snow peas and cilantro and sauté for another minute on high heat. Add half of fish curry stock and smidge of sweet Thai chili. Toss and heat for another minute. Finish with a squeeze of fresh lime, a pinch of sea salt and a grind of cracked black pepper to taste.
In two bowls, place a bed of rice noodles and top each with half of the remaining curry stock. Top with veggies and then shark tails. Finish with chopped cilantro.