Blacktip, bull, and lemon shark are part of our regular diet on Anegada. We have cleaned and eaten more of them than I can count. As far as meat quality: blacktip ranks #1, followed closely by bull, with lemon lagging pretty far behind.
The handling of the shark right after the catch is very important. Sharks do not urinate. Instead, they excrete nitrogenous wastes as urea, which is stored in their in the blood, and the nitrogenous wastes are expelled trough their skin. When a shark dies, the urea in their blood and flesh deteriorates into ammonia, which is why shark meat often tastes and smells of ammonia.
When I said lemon sharks lag pretty far behind, it is because they seem to have much higher content of urea (and, personally, I think that is why their skin has a yellowish color). They are misnamed, should be called piss sharks. Even so, I clean and process them so that they are perfectly edible.
Anyway, after landing a shark, I cut the tail off as soon as possible so that the fish will pump out as much blood as possible.
As soon as possible after that (meaning when I can safely handle without being bitten), I beach-clean them by cutting away the head and belly. To beach-clean, I take the tip of my boning knife and make a puncture in the center of the head, ahead of the gills, with the knife sideways so that the blade is facing one side or the other. The correct spot for the puncture is where the harder part of the head sort of softens - I feel for the spot with my hand. From the puncture, I continue the cut to one side, angling back across the top of the gills, then down just behind the gills toward the pectoral fins. It is easy to detect when the cut enters the abdominal area - the flesh surrounding it is quite thin. As I enter the abdominal area, I try to avoid cutting much deeper than the belly flesh so that I don't puncture the internal organs. It won't hurt the finished meat if I do - it just makes a bigger mess to clean up. As I am cutting into the belly flesh, I angle the cut toward the rear above the pectoral fins and continue the cut along the side, above the pelvic fins straight back to the end of the abdominal cavity, coming to the shark's centerline behind the vent and ahead of the anal fin.
I then go back to the head, where I made the puncture, and cut away the other side in the same way. When this is done, the head, belly, and organs come away in one big piece leaving the keeper piece - the upper rear torso with flesh and skin. I often ice or freeze the torso and fillet it out later.
I have found that if I don't remove the flesh from the abdomen quickly, the flesh might have an ammonia-like smell. Even if I do beach-clean a lemon shark quickly, they still have the smell. If blacktips and bulls have the odor, it is much weaker than a lemon, and many times not present at all.
I keep a sharp knife that is dedicated for this - a 6 inch boning knife seems to be the best tool. Shark skin is hell on a blade, so I sharpen my knife after each cleaning session.
Filleting is pretty much straight-forward, except that there are no bones to guide the fillet knife. I start by making the cut along the cartilage from the belly side (no backbone in a shark), cutting toward the top centerline, front-to-rear. I continue cutting the first side all the way to the rear, not cutting through the skin at the top of the body, and slicing just outside the tissue that connects the fins to the flesh. I use my boning knife on the bottom skin from behind the area where the abdomen was cut away to the rear - I don't like my fillet knife to get into shark skin.
When the cut is completed, I open the body (like butterflying a shrimp). It unfolds into two halves - one which still has the fins and one that does not. I take my boning knife and make a cut right down the skin at the top to separate the two halves. The cleaning table that I use has a top made of 2x4's with gaps between them - very handy because I can lay the shark body on top aligned with the gaps and cut with boning knife down the gap. I then remove the fins from the other half with the boning knife.
Now I have two halves with skin on, one with cartilage, one without. I use my fillet knife to remove the cartilage from the second half.
Next, I use my fillet knife to trim away the abdominal lining on the front part of the two halves. It is the thin, whitish layer of skin on the front part of the insides of the two halves.
From here, finishing is simple. I cut away the flesh from the skin, starting at the tail. I try to take care to make the cut just thick enough that the blood line is left with the skin, not with the meat (remember that urea!). As I am filleting away the flesh, I generally stop the cut every 3 or 4 inches and slice off that piece of fillet. If there is much blood line in the fillet chunk, I trim it off.
Now I have clean fillets.
But not necessarily ready to cook.
If the flesh has any odor to it (or sometimes even if not), I cleanse the fillets of urea by soaking them in a bath of milk and lime juice. Yes, the lime juice curdles the milk, but it works. We usually have an abundance of limes on the island - key limes, actually - trees abound. If we could get buttermilk in the islands, I would probably give it a try. To soak the fillets, I put them in a large baking pan, cover them with the milk mixture, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 6 hours.
If the fillets do not have any detectable odor, I will still soak them in fresh water for 4 to 6 hours (covered in the refrigerator).
After soaking, I give them a rinse with fresh water, wrap and freeze.
When cleaned like this, these shark fillets are as good as any fish that I have ever tasted - snapper, mahi, whatever - shark is right there at the top - and is 100% boneless.
We cook shark just about every way that we cook any other fish in the states. My favorite ways are shark fingers
and shark tacos
, but we also bake, broil, and fry the fillets.
I had killer sharkburger for lunch one day last week - cut a fillet into thin slices, pan fried, and put on a bun with mayo, lettuce, tomato, onion, and a hit of hot sauce....