What image does eating fugu conjure? Sudden death from fugu poison? Eating fugu is a rite of passage for anyone exploring Japanese cuisine. I believe there are not other cuisine that offer a Russian roulette as a course.
Despite its deadly potential, fugu has been eaten in Japan for hundreds of years. As it was initially unknown how to properly prepare the fish, there were many fatalities from fugu consumption. For this reason, the eating of fugu was banned from around 1570 to 1870. These days fugu is commonly available in restaurants and supermarkets throughout Japan, but must be prepared by a licensed chef, and is prohibited to be prepared in the home – even today, the Japanese royal family is forbidden from eating it.
Thrill-seeking is not the only reason that Japanese pufferfish remains so popular – aside from its distinct, subtle flavor and unique chewy texture, fugu is also low in fat and high in protein. Both fugu skin and meat are used in Japanese cuisine, and the meat is very versatile. Fugu was originally a high-class food, but has become more widely available in recent years–although still as a premium-priced fish.
Fugu skin may not sound like a stand-alone dish, but in a culture that traditionally values minimizing food waste, it is common to prepare all parts of an animal in a way that brings out their flavor. Fugu skin may be served raw as sashimi 皮刺し, sliced and boiled and served with ponzu, grilled, or deep-fried until it’s crispy—”fugu kawa senbei ふぐ皮煎餅” which is said to pair perfectly with a cold beer. In addition to preventing waste and providing new flavor sensations, fugu skin contains high levels of collagen, a protein that improves the skin’s appearance, elasticity and youthfulness, making it particularly popular with women.
Also known as “fugusashi” or “tessa”, fugu sashimi とらふぐ刺身 is one of the most common ways to eat Japanese pufferfish. To prepare the dish, fugu flesh is sliced paper-thin, much thinner than other varieties of fish sashimi, and the slices are elegantly arranged in circle to resemble a chrysanthemum—a little eerie given that the flower symbolizes death in Japanese culture. The plated sashimi is garnished with finishings such as edible flowers, sprouts, daikon and sudachi citrus, and served with ponzu to enhance the flavor of the raw fugu.
Fugu shirako is a delicacy for fans, but for newbies it represents one of the more challenging ways to eat fugu. Shirako is the Japanese term for milt, male fish genitalia containing sperm. Other than fugu, the Milt of cod, anko, salmon and squid are also popular ingredients in Japan. Fugu shirako is prized for its exceptional creaminess and gentle oceanic flavor. Common ways to eat fugu shirako is raw and dressed with ponzu and wasabi, cooked in a nabe, or lightly battered and deep-fried, tempura-style.
Tecchiri 泳ぎてっちり, or fugu chirinabe とらふぐ鍋, is a type of nabe—Japanese hot pot—that uses fugu as the feature ingredient. Nabe come in a range of broth flavors and ingredients, and the different regions of Japan have their own signature types of nabe showcasing local specialties. Fugu nabe is a specialty of the Kansai region of Japan, in particular, the Yamaguchi prefecture, as it is close to the Sea of Japan where pufferfish are in abundance. Tecchiri nabe features pieces of rich fugu meat alongside tofu, mushrooms and other vegetables cooked in a dashi broth and served with ponzu. Fugu nabe is a great meal option for fugu first-timers.
The most familiar form of Japanese karaage is most likely to tori (chicken) karaage, where pieces of chicken are marinated in sake, soy sauce, salt, garlic and ginger, then coated in a mixture of flour and potato starch and deep-fried until golden brown. However, this preparation technique is also a popular way to cook fish. Fugu karaage とらふぐ唐揚 is rich in flavor, with a soft, slightly chewy center and crisp outer crust. The deep-fried morsels typically come served with wedge of sudachi lime and salt. Unlike some fugu dishes, this is an easy-to-palate introduction to fugu for beginners.
Fugu ojiya is the name of a variety of zosui 雑炊, or Japanese rice porridge, with fugu as the main attraction. Zosui may be made either by cooking rice with water and sometimes dashi, then adding other ingredients, or by adding rice to a pot of nabe as it nears the end. Making zosui in the final stages of a nabe is a popular way to end a Japanese hot pot meal, and produces an extremely flavorful and nourishing dish—a beloved winter warmer.
The dessert for the evening was an ice cream sandwich that was simple but delicious.
Whether you’re after the rush of eating what once was a deadly sea creature, or interested in trying a diverse range of traditional Japanese foods, the wide range of fugu dishes make an appealing meal. For those just starting out, a steaming bowl of fugu nabe with a nip of sake, or a plate of crispy fried fugu karaage washed down with an ice-cold beer are great places to start. For the more daring, fugu shirako and hirezake makes for a boundary-pushing meal, and interesting story to tell friends and family!
The service was fantastic. Torafugutei can be considered an affordable fugu restaurant that still provide the complete fugu dining experience. Recommended once you overcome the fear.
Torafugutei とらふぐ亭 赤坂店
Japan, 〒107-0052 Tokyo, Minato, Akasaka, 3 Chome−6−１７ 東洋グリーンビル1F
Tel : +81 3-3560-6629