Shark Fin Soup at the Keung Kee Restaurant in Montreal
Please note: This post is partial republication of a review of the Keung Kee Restaurant in Montreal I posted some years ago.
Please, before you write, comment, or otherwise complain about me featuring Shark Fin in a culinary context, be assured that I am alive to the sustainability and other issues involving the fishery. At the time of my visit to Montreal, there appeared to be a movement toward a legislated moratorium on Shark Fin and so, before these disappeared (for ever, I thought), I purchased a whole Shark Fin to use at home with a view to writing about it, and I also tried the dish you see pictured above.
What is Shark’s Fin?
Well, quite simply, Shark Fin, as used in the kitchen, is the cartilaginous structure beneath the skin of the dorsal (back) Fin of certain types of Shark. When processed, by soaking, the ‘solid’ fin breaks down into clear fibers that look very much like Mung Bean, or ‘Cellophane’ Noodles.
What does Shark Fin Taste Like?
The short answer is they don’t taste much like anything. Occasionally, if you are using a whole Shark Fin and processing it, there may occasionally be fragments of meat adhering (which are usually quite pungent at this point), but essentially, the glassy threads that are eventually used are tasteless.
As with a number of ingredients, Shark Fin is prized for texture rather than taste in Chinese cookery and people have long been prepared to pay extremely high prices for this ‘luxury’ item.
The Shark Fin Soup at Keung Kee
In Chinese restaurants, you may occasionally come across Shark Fin in stir-fried dishes, or substantial hot-pots, but it is used primarily in soups, and most commonly with Crab meat. At very high-end restaurants, or special banquet presentations, the ‘soup’ portion of the dish is almost invariably a very rich, usually expensively made, Chinese Superior Stock. At Keung Kee, their soup came nowhere near this level of quality despite the price of even a small bowl.
At the time, a small bowl made with Crab or Chicken was $10, while one with Abalone went for $85 a bowl. I went for the plain, more economical one but I found the $10 price tag a little hefty given, that after stirring around in the soup I only managed to locate a few stray ‘noodle-like’ strands of Shark Fin.
The Crab meat was real, I suppose it is only fair to say (though had it been imitation I would have demanded my money back). Unfortunately, as with the Shark Fin, the restaurant’s approach seemed to be put in as little as you can without risking being sued for false advertising. There were a few bits here and there, but the body of the soup was mostly beaten egg white.
Hardly worth the money or the time, was my take on this disappointing dish. But… I won’t be having Shark Fin again, either at Keung Kee, or anywhere else.