Fugu 101 Takifugu Rubripes

For countless centuries, one of the greatest and costliest Japanese delicacies has been fugu – pufferfish. It is renowned for the possibility that it will leave you flopping on the floor, gasping for breath, and as dead as the fish.

Rakugo in Japanese is a short story and this is a story of three men that prepared a fugu stew but were unsure as to whether it was safe to eat. To test the stew they gave a portion to the beggar. When it did not seem to do him any harm they ate the stew. Later when they met the beggar again and were delighted to see that he was still in good health. But the beggar had in fact not eaten the stew but hidden it because he waited to see if the three men survived.

Fugu is about fugu a puffer fish known by many as poisonous and dangerous. In fact it isn’t dangerous but if it is served by a restaurant or chef that is licensed, you would be in danger. But the chances of that happening are very remote, possibly as remote as being hit by lightening crossing the street or less. The death toll from eating fugu is also incredibly low in Japan, with the most recorded in any year being six. In most years, the recorded number is zero.

Now if you would be crazy enough to prepare fugu at home – the fish carries the neurotoxin tetrodotoxin in it’s organs, especially the ovaries and liver and sometimes the skin contains small amounts. The poison causes paralysis and people die from asphyxiation.

One of the more notable incidents happened when a two michelin starred chef was suspended from a prestigious fugu restaurant in Tokyo, after serving fugu liver to a patron who was demanding it, despite the continuous warnings of its levels of toxins. The client who consumed the liver survived. Fugu no Doku is blowfish poison and fugu atari is blowfish poison poisoning and was quite deadly in the Edo period.

Fugu is generally highly prized and priced in Tokyo due to the need for a license and the exclusive nature. Fugu sashimi is costly and you can budget for “proper fugu”, quality of fresh wild fugu, not farmed will cost approximately JPY 50,000 per person inclusive of drinks and for a full set meal.

Fugu feed predominately on snails and have been known to snap at swimmers testes, go figure given you can eat teir testes – hmmmn. Japanese ritual eating deadly poisonous fish is difficult for foreigners to comprehend. For many the elegant Japanese, a death-defying event is a status symbol. Nonetheless, fugu ovaries, intestines and livers can be so deadly that if even touch of them is left in the fish the client dies and sometimes in five minutes or less.

In the medieval era, the Tokugawa shogunate regime strictly banned blowfish consumption. But it became popular again around the end of the regime in the mid-19th century as the government lost control over the people. Mr. Kitahara the owner of Blowfish museum in Osaka, noted as follows: “Human beings are funny. They want to eat what is forbidden. The history of blowfish is the history of prohibition by authorities. If blowfish weren’t poisonous, they might not be so popular.”

The genus in Japan is known as Komonfugu and in the golden days, a chef would guess the weight and age of a client and feed him liver by judging his/her ability to digest the liver without suffering paralysis. The result is tingling of the lips, blurred vision and dizziness, and if served too much poison, a sudden and slow death. In 1949 the health department licensed fugi, but eating the liver wasn’t banned until 1983.

Shimonoseki on the southwestern tip of Honshu accounts for 75%+ percent of the nation’s fugu catch and at the end of the Fugu season on April 29, in Shimonoseki at Haedodomari, small torafugu baby tiger pufferfish are let to swim in the sea.

Amuse

The first course is always an amuse bouche to open the palate and begin to enjoy Fugu sashimi.

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Sashimi

The fish is cut al la carte – and it is served with an includes the skin par boiled and the fugu filet are served raw.

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Ankimo

This is liver but not from Fugu and it is passed through a fine screen and slightly mixed with shoyu and dashi to give it a creamy texture.

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Ponzu

This is the pinnacle of dipping sauces as is the ankimo above. This is the foundation of enjoyment and you can adjust the quantities according to your preferences.

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Karashi

This is a mixture of red chilly and daikon and is used sparingly.

Hiresake

Cleaned each fin of fugu, dry them in the sun, and grill them to a beautiful brown for putting them into sake. In order to keep the taste and flavor of these fugu fins, a brand of sake that has a good balance between sourness and sweetness is chosen to avoid excessive conspicuity.

Nikogori

Fugu skin is gelatinous, and is dissolved in water when simmered. Cooks mildly season it and cool it to gelatinize the collagen. Appreciate the wonderful taste that expands in the mouth on the moment you put the gelatin on your tongue.

Deep-fried

Fugu meat is thinly seasoned to keep its flavor, and then deep-fried with a crispy surface. Hold the fry with your hands and bite it. The gelatin and bony part around the mouth is particularly tasty.

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Shirako

The testes of fugu are salted on the surface, and grilled slowly with some distance above fire. The surface becomes fragrant in a beautiful brown, and inside it feels like rich milk.

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Fugu Chiri-Nabe

This is a pot dish to enjoy cut fugu (blowfish) meat and fugu bone together with vegetables, boiled in kelp soup in an earthenware pot. Taste the pot together with recommended Ponzu sauce, green onion, and other condiments.

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Zosui

Fugu cooks take a good soup from fugu meat and bony parts, add fugu skin and meat into the soup, boil it lightly, and then add cooked rice after rinsing it to remove sliminess. Guests can add Ponzu sauce or daikon with chile as they like. This mildly finished dish is indispensable for closing the course.

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