Have you heard of fugu? What a strange word, right? Well, if you haven’t heard of fugu, you must have heard of the pufferfish. It is also known as blowfish or porcupine fish. Fugu is a dish prepared using this fish, a life form with one of the most deadly, naturally occurring toxins in the world.
Blowfish contains the toxin tetrodotoxin. It is lethally poisonous, even in small amounts. You may ask yourself, why would anyone want to eat something that could kill them? If you don’t do it for the sake of an adventurous story, your curiosity and the exhilarating sense of danger attached to it could make it seem very appealing.
What does fugu taste like? Fugu tastes like white fish. It has an intense flavor that is best described as subtle but powerful. The taste of fugu is so subtle that it doesn’t feel like you are having seafood. It is easy on your palate but not something you would easily forget. Fugu has a slight umami, the kind you like from miso or shoyu soup. The texture greatly depends on how you cook it.
Fugu comes from a very lean fish. If you cook it for too long, it will become tough and chewy. The subtle flavor of fugu is what makes it so highly sought after in Japanese cuisines.
Nutritional Benefits of Fugu
What nutritional benefit can you hope to find from a fish that could kill if it is not well cooked or cleaned properly? The toxin in puffer fish can kill a full-grown healthy man within hours. But curious scientists have found out that this same toxin can relieve cancer patients of the pain when every other remedy has failed. Scientists have also found that an active ingredient can be isolated from this toxin without passing on its deadly effects.
This active ingredient is 3000 times stronger than morphine. In cases where traditional painkillers are no longer effective, the active ingredient can ease pain for eight to twenty-one days.
Patients that regularly use morphine have to deal with the side effects and the addiction that comes with it. The ingredient, unlike morphine, has no side effects and is non-addictive. A single pufferfish can produce 600 doses of this drug, scientists and medical experts believe that it can help terminally ill patients have some modicum of comfort before they pass. It could also revolutionize the treatment of pain and change the way we look at it.
This drug is to be called Tectin. It could be available as a form of painkiller medication in no time. Studies are being carried out on Tetrodotoxin at the Imperial College in London to find out if it can be used as a cure for prostate cancer that kills about 10,000 British men annually.
Culinary Uses of Fugu
Fugu is very hard to cook. It has one of the most complex preparation processes ever. If you own a restaurant and you want to add fugu to the items on your menu, you would need to get a certified chef and obtain a license.
Fugu is loved by many but has only been tried by a few daring individuals. There are several dishes into which fugu can be integrated or in simpler terms; dishes you should try if you ever want to eat fugu.
Fugu sashimi is the most popular way of serving fugu in Japan. If you are a fan of seafood, you must have heard of sashimi, the main item in the dish is the fillet of a fish, and it is usually used raw. Fugu sashimi is served in a carpaccio style, and it is usually garnished with flowers, veggies, or ponzu sauce for added flavor.
Fugu skin is exactly what you think it is, fugu skin that has been properly extricated from the fish. It is usually deep-fried and can be served with salads, or as grilled slices so you can make use of a sauce. There is also another way to use fugu in the kitchen. It is known as the fugu hot pot and it is quite a delicacy.
Fugu tatami is well recognized by Japanese cuisine lovers, to make it, you need to sear shreds of the blowfish flesh almost perfectly in a hot skillet. It is also enjoyed alongside ponzu sauce just like the fugu sashimi. In the case of Fugu Kara-age, the fish is marinated with ginger, soy sauce, and garlic. It is then doused in potato starch, then deep-fried twice to give it a crispy exterior.
What is the History of Fugu? How to Procure It?
The Japanese have been eating fugu for a long time. In fact, fugu bones have been found in shell middens also known as kaizuka. These bones date back to the Jomon period which is about 23 years ago.
From 1603 to 1868, consumption of fugu was prohibited due to its poisonous nature by the Tokugawa shogunate. There are different varieties of pufferfish, but the tiger pufferfish is the biggest and most poisonous species you can ever hope to find out there.
There are fishing regulations in place that would help to prevent the extinction of these species. The best season to harvest fugu is in winter when the fish has fattened up to survive the cold.
Whole uncut fugu cannot be sold to you. Since 1958, fugu chefs must earn a license before they are allowed to make fugu dishes. However, fugu dishes can be gotten in licensed Japanese restaurants. Already prepared fugu is also available at grocery stores, but they must bear a license that needs to be publicly displayed.
Has Anyone Died From Eating Fugu?
In recent times, the death toll resulting from fugu has reduced, due to the way it is handled and the regulations put in place to ensure that people do not accidentally ingest the natural toxin present in fugu. Since 2000, 23 people have died from eating fugu.
Facts You Don’t Know About Fugu
- Fugu is the one dish that the Japanese emperor cannot eat, due to safety concerns.
- To obtain a license as a chef for fugu preparation, you must have embarked on a 3-year apprenticeship, then take a test that involves identification of the fish, a written and a practical test that involves preparing then eating the fish.
- Japanese are domesticating fugu, trying to breed pufferfishes that do not contain this naturally occurring toxin.