Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Fugu - who knew?

Is this title corny? It's just my attempt at trying to understand some of the 'mysticism' associated with my favorite fish - fugu. There is so much misunderstanding associated with fugu, it's amazing.

fugu1
For example, here's an excerpt from an email my sister sent me after watching a TV show about fugu...

"OK. So this guy says how there is poison in it's flesh on top of the poison in the poison sack.
I'm like - POISON SACK??? It's not poison sack. It's just that it's liver consists of poison. There's no SACK.

And he proceeds to say that there's just enough poison in it's flesh to numb your mouth, to give you a tingling feeling.

I'm like HUH?!?!?!

Then I saw.

He's put in like a whole mound of Momiji Oroshi. Then he put more on the piece of Fugu before putting it in his mouth.

DUDE THAT TINGLING FEELING AINT THE FUGU. IT'S THE STUPID MOMIJI OROSHI YOU'VE BEEN DOWNING!!"


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Momiji oroshi is the hot-pepper-spiked radish gratings you see inside the kabosu-lime shell in the picture... It can be very spicy...

fugu3
Fugu meat is actually very sweet with a very subtle complexity of umami. Dipped in ponzu (citrus-soy sauce) with a dab of momiji oroshi, the sweetness is really highlighted along with the most pleasurable texture that borders on chewy - just enough firmness to make each bite a little more work than most fish. As it gives with each bite, the sweetness and the clean flavors of umami are released. If there is one word to describe fugu, it is 'sublime'. I consider fugu to be one of the greatest epicurean pleasures available to us mankind. It is truly a complex, sweet, tender, and subtle pocket of deliciousness. If I were to ever get myself into Molecular Gastronomy, I would devote my life to the study of fugu.

There are a number of fake, farmed fugu in restaurants these days, and these just don't have the same complexity, texture, or tender sweetness. I had one of these at a izakaya in Japan a few years back - I found it rather strange to find fugu on the menu at an izakaya, a traditionally low-key culinary destination. It wasn't the same. It wasn't even good. In addition, many farmed fugu is forced to swim in formaldehyde, a toxin, before being harvested to kill some parasites that are unique to farmed fugu. This is more than about flavors - it's about protecting yourself and environment. Just say no to farmed fugu...

fugu2
Fugu is one of the most seasonal fish that the Japanese consume. The best fugu is only available during the winter months, and being the spoiled brat that I am, I have traveled back to Japan almost every year since I was thirteen to gorge myself on fugu in the winter. My mother always calls me with the latest fugu status to lure me back on to the airplane...

And boy, this fugu sushi was so worth the trip this year. I usually have a full course of fugu, but this time, I had a concentrated fugu dose of sashimi, sushi, and deep-fried meat. It was pure epicurean debauchery. The sushi was a unique experience for me - the vinegar of the sushi rice was a perfect accompaniment to the fugu flesh. Sliced so thin I could see through the flesh, the fugu texture was highlighted by the softness of the rice underneath. Two pieces of sushi were enough to satisfy me and leave me breathless.

Fugu. Who knew such great pleasures could be gotten from a bite?

10 comments:

The Papa Bear said...

Wow, the pictures (and your writing) is making me sooo hungry.

The Papa Bear said...

Yey, I'm the first person to comment on your blog again..... :)

yamo said...

Where did you get this at? I didn't have fugu when I went to Japan last year :(

The Papa Bear said...

Next time we go to a restaurant that serves momiji oroshi, we'll have to bring our own _hot_ peppers (parado) for the chef to make momiji oroshi. You're waaaay to advanced for what typical restaurants consider to be "hot" nowadays.

Therefore, you're now promoted to the rank of Shodan in the Art of Pepper-do. :)

Uchipu said...

I want fugu. I want fugu.

.....like right now.

Alice said...

Yamo,

I had this at a super nice place in Nagoya called Kase. Ka-se. Highly recommended!!!

Papa,

XD

Uchipu,

We should do a sister trip to Nagoya again soon!

yamo said...

Alice, is Nagoya your hometown?

Arik said...

Do they harvest only particular species of blowfish for preparation in restaurants?

Arik said...

ooh! Nevermind I found some information on fugu species. Great Article Alice!

Arik said...

Ok last comment. I just like this fugu topic. I need to try this fish :)

I didn't know famous poets have written of fugu!

I cannot see her tonight.
I have to give her up
So I will eat fugu.

Yosa Buson