The puffer fish is a paradoxical creature, interesting and dangerous. Known and named for its defense mechanism – inflating itself a couple of times its size – and its high toxicity. So toxic it is a wonder it doesn’t poison itself. One of the deadliest marine animals in the world, both for other animals and for humans, it contains tetrodotoxin, a substance 1,200 times more poisonous than cyanide. To give an idea, the poison from one puffer is enough to kill 30 people.
And yet, it’s considered a delicacy.
Known as fugu in Japan, it is one of the most exotic and expensive dishes found on a menu. The most popular form it takes is that of sashimi, which is served raw. Preparation can only be executed by professional chefs who have earned a highly specialized certificate.
For this, the chefs train for three years, during which time they study various elements such as the texture, smell, and flavor of the fish. At the end of the course, they take demanding final exams – both theoretical and practical. The practical exam involves cutting – extremely complicated, as all poisonous parts of the fish must be avoided – cooking, and actually eating the fugu they have prepared. Only 33% of the candidates pass the exam, leading to either high prestige or a very bad day indeed.
Does this imply that qualified chefs have never made bad cuts? Unfortunately, they have been made more than once, which is why puffer fish continues to have a bad reputation. As there is no antidote, it is the only dish that the Japanese emperor is prohibited from eating and it is banned in several countries, including Spain and the United Kingdom.
In light of all this, one wonders, is it worth the risk? Will it be the most delectable thing you have ever tasted? Those lucky few who have tried it and lived to tell the tale say the flavor is like that of white fish, but milder; it has a subtle flavor and leaves a kind of pleasant tingle in the mouth. One might conclude that adrenaline influences the desire to try such a dangerous dish!