The Notorious Delight Called Fugu


Credit: maximillian_schaffhausen

In Endless Summer’s  “Top 6 Exotic Foods You Must Try Once in Your LifeEs Guest introduces fugu, a fish dish from Japan. It is probably one of the most exotic fish dishes ever to grace any dining table. Guest says, “Fugu is equally famous as Kobe beef, but not for the same reason. This fish has a deadly reputation: When not prepared properly, it can kill the one who eats it in seconds. Fugu fish contains poisonous tetrodotoxin in its organs and has to be sliced in a very precise way. But apparently, the risk is worth taking, for the fish’s flesh is indescribably delicious…”

The Delicate Process Involved in Preparing Fugu

Fugu is the Japanese term for a dish prepared made from pufferfish or blowfish, which comes from Takifugu, Lagocephalus, or Sphoeroides. Fugu is served as sashimi or chirinabe, a one-pot dish consisting of fish and vegetables. Preparing fugu is a delicate process strictly controlled by the government. Rigid three-year training is required for chefs to qualify as fugu preparers, because errors in the procedure can lead to accidental death.

In BBC.Com’sFugu: The fish more poisonous than cyanide”, Ronald Buerk describes the preparation of fugu by Kunio Miura, a master chef who has been preparing fugu for six decades. He says, “Kunio Miura always uses his special knives to prepare fugu – wooden-handled with blades tempered by a swordsmith to a keen edge. Before he starts work in his kitchen they are brought to him by an assistant, carefully stored in a special box…

“First he lays the despatched fish, rather square of body with stubby fins, on its stomach and cuts open the head to removes its brain and eyes…

“They are carefully placed in a metal tray marked ‘non-edible’. Then he removes the skin, greenish and mottled on the top and sides, white underneath, and starts cutting at the guts…”

The internal organs are toxic part of the fish; cutting any organ would contaminate the flesh of the fish and render it poisonous. To date, more than twenty people have died from pufferfish poisoning, so it is important to make sure the poison is isolated and discarded.

Enjoying a Dangerous Meal

Fugu can be enjoyed in several ways. It can be grilled and served with teriyaki sauce, or sliced thin for sashimi, or cooked as part of shabu-shabu, a stew called on a table-top burner. When you dine on fugu sashimi, all your senses are fed.

Apart from the taste of the fish, the fugu slices are sliced so finely you can see through them. These slices are beautifully assembled to resemble a chrysanthemum or a swan, satisfying the most discriminating aesthetic standards. Finally, the dish itself comes with a serving of danger; this probably adds to the thrill of dining on fugu.

In “Dining with Death: Fugu at Sushi Zen”, Carey Jones of New York Serious Eats describes the unique excitement that comes with eating blowfish. “Fugu, it seemed to me, is the culinary equivalent of the monster in a horror movie. It’s all about the suspense. As soon as you confront it head on and take your first bite you wonder, that was it? And you return to your regularly scheduled (albeit outstanding) Japanese meal.”

Fugu, cooked any way you want it, is truly a meal with a thrill. It is certainly not everyday fare, but it is something worth trying at least once in your lifetime.

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