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Risky Business that Fugu

(post, LouAnn Con)

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Fugu fish eating can be dangerous business, but that does not stop it from being a national pastime.  Just this past week, the San Francisco Chronicle reported another case of poisoning.  The poison, tetrodotoxin is 100 times more powerful the potassium cyanide - Agatha Christie eat your heart out.  No antidote exists for the powerful neurotoxins this fish contains.   The only method used to treat the victims is to support the respiratory and circulatory systems while the poison wears off.  If the victim can live beyond the first 24 hours, chances are good for a recovery.

Why risk it?  I’ve been trying to understand myself, but apparently its for the risk lovers among us who live on the edge with the knowledge that if the chef screwed up, its lights out.  From what I understand, the taste alone is not enough to enduce this sort of daring do.  The tastiest, and most poisonous part of the fish is the liver, although you will not find the liver served at restaurants today as it has been illegal to serve it since 1984.   

The toxin is not in the meat itself, but in the fish’s organs, so the chef must not nick any of those lethal innards in creating his delicacies.  Some diners claim to experience a slight numbing of their lips, and even a feeling of euphoria as a result of the meal.  I’d feel euphoric too if I just ate something that could have killed me, but lived to see another day.

Only one type of knife is legally used in the making of fugu sashimi called the fugu hiki, which translates to the puffer fish-puller.  This knife must be stored separate from the chefs other knifes to avoid possible cross contamination.

As you might imagine, not just anyone makes fugu sashimi, a chef must be licensed and apprenticed for three years.  After completing his apprenticeship, he must take a rigorous exam where the pass rate is less than 30%.  Most deaths are fisherman who figure that they can make the sashmi at home rather than pay for the expensive meal which can run up to $200 US . 

In addition to the sashimi, the fugu is also served as chirinabe and the fins are toasted with hot sake poured over them.  This sake is commonly drunk as an appertif. 
Despite the obvious drawbacks, 10,000 tons of fugu are consumed in Japan each year, with most fish coming from Yamaguchi.  You can find puffer fish in some restaurants in the United States, mostly around New York City.  Licensed chefs in Japan have removed the poisonous bits before shipping them to the United States. 
Any takers on fugu sashimi?  I might try, but I suspect it would depend on the amount of sake consumed ahead of time.