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I really enjoy Shark Fin Soup but like many had to leave it. It was subsequently great to find a substitute non-fin styled soup and surprisingly there is no difference int aste or texture. Although I can probably say that I was never aware of a specific fin taste. I shouldn't say surprised either as my experience with substitutes worked out by Chinese cooks and chefs is never a second rate call that's most definitely a finesse of skil for this group of people. I would heartily recommend that you try the Substitute Shark Fin Soup and know that you'll enjoy. If you have a well proven stock of your own creation I can't imagine not being able to use it and simply substituting the imitation fin and really recreating the true soup again.

Food scientists from the global and the Chinese communities have looked at the health benefits of Shark Fin and it's constituents. The medical establishment has run trials with extracted and purified ingredients isolated from the Fin and performed clinical trials with respect to the questioned clinical benefits. The outcome was unequivocally "no benefit" this has yet to penetrate and is still being recommeneded and prescibed for degenrative joint diseases both humans and animals.

At this time, there is no such thing as "ethical" Shark's Fin Soup. This is purely a marketing term. The numbers of sharks in the environment are so low that the species is truly on the brink of extinction. There is no farming of Shark so the numbers are purely dependent on the catch. Long nets are dropped in the path of the shark's migratory path so in effect every shark passing these points will be trapped and finned. Don't get caught by the promise of "ethical Shark's Fin". This may evolve in time but definitely not at this time.

There are recipes for Shark's Fin substitute soups and these are identical in both flavour and texture. These don't use Shark Fin at all and are well worth your effort in preparing and enjoying.

You're probably aware that there are ethical issues with Shark Fin Soup?
There are two ethical issues:

Massive killing and threatening various sharks with extinction including some of the better known grand sharks. Believed to be 73,000,000-100,000,000 of these fish per year are killed for an increasing appetite fueled by effective marketing, for this dish. 2010 was a year that hopefully will allow the fishes to increase in population once again with laws made in the US legislature and a clear indication to CITES that there are powerful lobbies with teeth that will take action.

Estimates that 70% of these creatures are finned by slicing off the dorsal, the tail fins and sometimes the pectoral fins. The commercial value and culinary attribute parallels the order of harvesting the fins. 70 million of these mutilated creatures still alive are dumped back into the sea. Some would be attacked by other predators and killed swiftly but the majority drown as they cannot swim, some will live for a period but almost certainly won't survive. We can only humanise their panic as their whole life has been swimming day and night, sleep and awake... to survive. The drive must be phenomenal and then they can't!.

An increasingly rare sight

This is undoubtedly a cruel and inhumane practice and with only less than 1% of the meat used disrespectful of the bounty. Estimates are that 10 serves of Shark Fin Soup can be prepared from one fish. Having said that a lot of shark is contaminated by heavy metal particularly mercury and is not recommended for children and women of child bearing age to consume, so preparing the meat for consumption is not a safe option.   Finning  would  be one of man's worst demonstrations of inhumane activity against animals.

If societies were able to manage the shark population and harvest the fin by a humane process, would this overcome the criticism? For many I think 'yes' is the answer.

There is still the issue of the 99% disregard for the bounty of the sacrificed sharks.  This should be sorted if the other two issues are truly solved and would require research. Some people  are committed to the preservation of the species, others are  focused on abolition of the cruelty. Of course there are many who are motivated by both issues

It's believed (?) that the making of Shark's Fin Soup started back in the Ming Dynasty and that's a grand piece of tradition but it doesn't validate either of the two modern issues: extinction and cruelty. For the moment the use of shark's fin in the recipe should stay as the history of a tradition and the recipe to be admired for their creativeness. The old world didn't threaten the fish population with survival nor did it go around and fin shark, in fact Chinese tradition prohibits wastefulness with regards to food and ingredients. No it's our issue and our problem today.

Shark's fins are sold in frozen or dried form. The frozen fin comes in strands and is ready to use after an hour soaking. As for the dried form, there are two versions available - skinned (shredded) or un-skinned (whole) and they require more preparation.

The traditional recipes called for the fin to be added to a multi-component stock. The stock is where the flavour is and by substituting imitation fin for the real, there isn't any loss of flavour or texture benefit. The preparation details follow here for the real fin as a complete documentation.  Imitation Shark's Fin Soup recipe is in the link.

Preparing the fin
  1. Begin with a 4 oz piece of dried shark fin or the equivalent frozen fin
  2. To soften and prepare the skinned fin:
  3. Soak them in warm water for about an hour then rinse under running cold water for 10 minutes. Drain.
  4. Place the shark's fin in a pot and cover with water or clear chicken stock with scallions and ginger. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 6 to 8 hours. Drain and discard the water/stock.
  5. Wash under cold water when tender to remove the odor.
  6. To soften and prepare the un-skinned shark's fin:
  7. Drop into boiling water, turn the heat to low and simmer for 3 to 4 hours. Drain and let cool overnight in fresh water.
  8. Clean the surface, remove soft bones, peel the skin and wash under cold water.
  9. Repeat step 1 and 2 until all the rough skin is removed.
Proceed to soften it using the method above for skinned fin.
Note : Over-boiling may 'dissolve' the fins, especially younger or shorter ones.

The recipe

 Ingredients example:
  •  sesame oil
  • spring onion/scallion finely chopped
  •  ginger, peeled and finely chopped
  • Chinese dried mushrooms, soaked in cold water for 30 minutes, drained and sliced
  •  Rice wine
  •  gourmet stock (often a mixed duck and ham stock +)
  • ready prepared shark’s fin, soaked for 1 hour in cold water and drained
  •  boned chicken breast, shredded
  •  small shrimps, peeled
  • soy sauce
  • cornstarch, blended with 1 tbsp chicken stock
  • A dash of black vinegar or brandy (optional)

he method is a stock preparation which is extremely varied with many households keeping their cards close to their chest. It's an expensive soup as the fin in it's dried or frozen form doesn't come cheaply.

Many of the extra stock ingredients are semi-gourmet items which all adds to the cost.

There is probably an element of the cost that allows for successful marketing of ths soup. I think that it is a delicious soup and I never tire of the flavour. It was a sad realisation of the destructive harvest both from a humane point of view and a gastronomical point of view. I was quite happy to forego the dish and leave it at that.

Friends in Singapore introduced me to a substitute fin soup and I was delighted. A little uncomfortable at first wondering about the effect on the preservation and the stopping of the finning etc. It was a slow evolution of thought that made me realise that this is a good thing and can be enjoyed.