Printer Friendly


Perhaps no other fish swims in an ocean of greater mystique than fugu. Also referred to as pufferfish, blowfish, sea squab and globefish, fugu Varies in degrees of toxicity. There are more than 100 Species of fugu, or "tetraodontidae," with some of the most deadly found along Japan's Nippon coast. Of the more than thirty Varieties found there, only 12 are edible. Fugu's succulent white flesh tastes like frog's legs. Its skin is covered in toxic needles and is as coarse as sandpaper. As a defense mechanism, the fish inflate their bodies with water or air until they resemble floating porcupines. For someone who lacks proper fugu training, distinguishing between species is like a novice mushroom hunter attempting to differentiate between fungi, sometimes with the same deadly results.

Art culinaire spoke with Chef Toshio Suzuki of Manhattan's Sushi Zen restaurant. Suzuki is one of the few chefs certified in the United States to serve fugu at his restaurant. Suzuki prepares four traditional fugu recipes, provides a step-by-step visual demonstration about the preparation of fugu, and answers questions that help lift the shroud of mystery surrounding one of the ocean's most deadly and intriguing fish.

What is the "Torafugu Buyers Association of America" (TBAA), and the Bureau of Food Safety and Community Sanitation (BFSCS)?

The First is the only purveyor in the United States that distributes fugu to restaurants. The BFSCS provides regular and periodic restaurant inspections to ensure that only safe foods are served in restaurants.

What is the process like to become certified to serve fugu?

To earn certification to serve fugu in the United Stales, one must fulfill the requirements of the Torafugu Buyers Association of America. These requirements are that a restaurant must pass three or more years of the FDA or Health Department regulations, and have sufficient refrigeration and freezer equipment for the fugu on site. Restaurants can only purchase torafugu from FDA-approved purveyors, and the fish bought by these restaurants mush be used within two months after its date of purchase. Finally, chefs must attend a fugu seminal held by the Torafugu Buyers Association.

How many years of training are required for certification?

Because all fugu is imported to the United States, all the poisonous parts are removed before arriving here. Therefore, one only needs to become qualified by the TBAA to serve fugu in America. The seminars held by the TBAA train chefs about proper torafugu handling, such as how to properly store torafugu, One must display his certificate at the front of the restaurant.

In Japan (Tokyo Prefecture) one must acquire a license in order to serve fugu, In order to acquire a license, a chef must have had a chef license for more than three years, and have been trained For five years under a chef who is qualified to prepare fugu. After the training, the chef must pass both a written and a hands-on exam. This means that eight years must be dedicated to fugu training in order to become licensed to serve the fish.

What do these exams involve?

There are 100 written questions about the handling of poison, the preparation location, and the preparation techniques (such as how to set up the preparation table). fugu must be prepared at a specific location used only for preparing fugu. This location includes a table, sinks and knives. One must constantly sanitize all utilities, as well as his hands, while working with fugu.

One thing included in the hands-on exam is the correct identification of the variety and gender of the fugu that has been placed in front of the chef The chef must prepare the fugu and correctly divide its parts into their appropriate categories.

Please explain how fugu is prepared, beginning with the whole fish.

In Japan, before preparing fugu, the chef must first completely sanitize his hands and the preparation area. Preparing the fish involves removing its fins, its mouth (beak), and then its skin. Its bottom jaw is then pulled away, taking its organs with it. Next, after its head is removed, its meat is separated and divided into categories. Immediately after this step, the Organs must be placed in a lacked box and taken to a location designated by the prefecture to be disposed of. Then, once again, the chef's hands and the preparation area must be sanitized.

Are you required in America to keep a special workspace where fugu dishes are prepared? Does the workspace have a special cleanup process?

Because fugu in the United States does not contain poison, one does not need to have a special workspace to prepare fugu. In Japan (Tokyo Prefecture) all sinks, tables, and knives (more than three) must be on premises and dedicated to preparing only fugu. All drained water from that workspace, as well as poisonous organs, are collected and must be taken to a location specified by the prefecture to be disposed of.

Are you able to handle poisonous fugu organs with your bare hands?

Yes. Because the poison (tetrodotoxin) can be removed with water, gloves are not needed.

Is a special knife used to prepare fugu? Is it stored differently from other knives?

There are no special knives used in preparing fugu; however, one must use three different knives for the process. One cuts the meat, one severs out layers, and one is used for the organs. One knife cannot be used to prepare another part of the fugu, and none of the knives can be used in preparing other fish.

What are the edible parts of fugu? What are the inedible parts?

Edible parts include the meat, "shirako" (fugu sperm sack), skin and fins. Inedible parts, such as the organs and gills, include all other areas of fugu.

Are all fugu toxic?

Yes, it is best to assume all fugu are poisonous. Most farmed fugu contains fewer poisons.

After World War II, several homeless people died in Japan after consuming fugu organs. How did this tragedy change the way fugu organs were disposed of?

We assume that at that time food sources were scarce and homeless people were scavenging for food. They would eat parts of the fugu that are poisonous without knowing it. Today, fugu is treated with extreme caution, such as centralizing a location by prefecture for disposing fugu, as well as keeping all poisonous (inedible) parts in locked boxes prior to disposing of them, storing all drained water from the preparation in a separate location, and disposing of the poisonous parts and water at the location specified by the prefecture. Hence, the public is no longer exposed to fugu poison.

Have you ever seen anyone poisoned by fugu?

No. However I have heard stories of people dying from fugu poisoning. Once ingested, the poison controls the nerves of the body, depleting all senses and paralyzing the victim. Cardiac arrest then occurs and the lungs become paralyzed, causing the victim to be unable to breathe, Therefore, the person cannot call for an ambulance even though he is completely aware of what is going on since the brain remains completely Functional during the process.

How are fugu caught in Japan?

Lure fishing and net fishing.

What is Shimonoseki?

Shimonoseki is a city in the Yamaguchi Prefecture with the largest market dedicated to fugu. Today, similar to Kobe beef, Shimonoseki is a renowned brand name. However Ishikawa Prefecture has the most catches of fugu in Japan.

Please explain the following dishes: "hire-zake," "tecchiri" and "fugu-sashi."

"Hire-zake" are dried fugu fins that are grilled and placed into a cup filled with hot sake. The cup is presented with a lid and is then heated in front of the guest. When the lid is opened the guest enjoys the aroma as well as the flavor of the sake. "Tecchiri" is a fugu hot pot served with seasonal ingredients such as tofu, cabbage and scallions. Another variation is "shungiku" hot pat with shiitake and enoki mushrooms with kombu (seaweed) broth. "Fugu-sashi" is sashimi (tessa) presented in such thin slices you can see the dish that it is presented on. It is typically served with ponzu sauce and a traditional sashimi garnish.

About how much does the most expensive fugu meal cost?

In Japan, a tessa dish with a total of 12 pieces costs about $60 USD at a high-end restaurant. In the United States it would cost more due to import fees, The same tessa dish with 12 pieces cost about $90 USD.

On average, how many people die each year in Japan after consuming fugu? Do you know of any deaths that have ever happened in America?

In Japan, fugu-induced deaths are much lower than they used to be due to the strict certification process now in place. Data From the past 10 years indicate there were 315 accidents/injuries and 31 deaths involving fugu consumption. Most, if not all of the deaths, were caused by people serving fugu at home without knowledge or qualifications to serve the fish. In America there is no information available about people dying of fugu poisoning, especially at restaurants. However there may be a possibility that a restaurant may acquire fugu through illegal purveyors, so guests must make sure the establishment has a valid fugu certificate.

Do you know how many restaurants in Japan serve fugu and how much fugu is consumed each year? How many restaurants are certified to serve fugu in America?

There are many restaurants in Japan that serve fugu. They include fugu-only restaurants and others that also serve sushi or traditional Japanese food. In the United States, as of 2008, there were 26 restaurants certified by the TBAA to serve fugu.

What makes fugu fatal if improperly prepared?

The poison tetrodotoxin present in its organs, not the meat.

s there an antidote to tetrodotoxin?

There is none at this time. However if the respiratory system and the heart are kept in motion, a person may survive tetrodotoxin ingestion.
COPYRIGHT 2009 Culinaire, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2009 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:pufferfishes
Publication:Art Culinaire
Article Type:Interview
Geographic Code:1U2NY
Date:Jun 22, 2009
Previous Article:Mise en place.
Next Article:Leaving yourself in the chef's hands.

Related Articles
Interview with a master chef.
Not quite your last supper.
Foods for thought.
Leaving yourself in the chef's hands.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2020 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters