I had fugu (pufferfish, balloon fish) last night and the very good news is I'm alive to report on my meal today. Actually, very few die from eating this delicacy these days. Yet, the Emperor of Japan is forbidden to eat fugu (translated to river pig), so there clearly is a perceived danger. The state of Florida bans fishing for this species and the European Union prohibits it. Chefs who must train for two to three years are now skilled, and there are 3800 of them Japan. But a 2-Michelin star restaurant in Tokyo suspended its head chef after a diner almost died. To quote:
- In the 1950s, 400 people were killed and 31,056 were sickened in one year alone. About 60 percent of people who eat tainted fugu die. Most of the fugu poisonings and deaths are attributed to amateur chefs who try to cut up the fish themselves without undergoing the special training needed to prepare it.
- Between 1974 and 1984 over 200 people died of fugu poisoning in Japan, most from intentionally or non intentionally eating the liver from fish prepared at home.
- Captain James Cook almost died after he tried a piece of fugu liver in New Caledonia.
- In From Russia with Love one villain tried to kill James Bond with puffer fish poison.
- Traffic fatalities in Japan average 4,000/year, but cars are still allowed. Incidentally, the death toll was 16,765 in 1970, so conditions have improved.
- But back to the fugu, they are now mostly bred in an environment free of this bacteria, so the fear factor is mostly gone. And this allows you to consume the liver, which is said to be especially delicious. But would you trust the chef to prepare the right type of fugu?
- To prepare poisonous fugu a cook must follow 30 prescribed steps. After the poisonous parts have been removed with a hocho knife the fish is cut into pieces and then washed under water to remove the toxins and blood. The poisoned organs are placed in special bags that must be kept under lock and key and disposed of like radioactive waste in a special incinerator.
- About 4,500 tons of farmed fugu are produced in Japan annually. They sell for about one fifth the price of wild fugu. You can tell the difference between farmed and wild fugu by tasting the white meat. Farmed fish tastes like sardines and mackerel, the fish they are fed, while wild fish tastes like shrimp and crab, the food on which they feed.
- Tamao Noguchi of Nagasaki University is raising non-poisonous fugu with the aim of selling the liver, the sale of which has been banned since 1983. In some ways he laments his potential success, telling National Geographic, “a fugu without its poison is like a samurai without his sword."
- In 2009, Optima Foods, a company in Ehime Prefecture, announced that it successfully bred takifugu to be poison-free on an aqua farm in the middle of the mountains in a pond made of underground mineral water mixed with salt and minerals. Restauranteurs said the fish were bigger than those caught in the sea and the meat tasted much better than other farmed fugus.
pièce de résistance, two testicles each:
I doused my first ball in a hot sauce, chewed it and swallowed almost the whole thing. Very creamy and no fishy taste. It had the texture of soft cheese. At this point in the meal I thought about those six in Hokkaido as mentioned above, but that notion quickly passed.