“Poisonous” Japanese Tora-Fugu Season Is Here
The Japanese delicacy of tora-fugu, a species of blowfish with deadly poison in its organs, recently returned to the menus at Kaz Sushi Bistro and Sushi Taro.
At Kaz, chef/owner Kaz Okochi prepares a five-course fugu feast for $150 per person. A limited number of reservations for groups of two or four are available by calling (202) 530-5500. Meanwhile, Sushi Taro offers an 11-part fugu tasting (with nonfugu dishes thrown in) for $138 with a two-order minimum. Some fugu dishes—including sashimi, a rice porridge soup, and grilled fugu fin in hot sake—are also available a la carte. The menu is available most days of the week through February.
Y&H took a deeper look at some of the myths of this supposedly risky fish in a column last year. First of all, the sushi chef does not hold your life in his hands if you're eating tora-fugu in the U.S. The fish is butchered and the poisonous bits removed at a highly regulated facility in Japan before it ever hits American soil. The meat, bones, and skin arrive broken down into separate parts and frozen.
Secondly, both Kaz and Sushi Taro serve farm-raised tora-fugu, and because the toxins come from the fish's diet in the wild, the aquaculture variety is supposedly safe. (Nonetheless, both are butchered with the same cautionary procedures, for which there is a special certification in each prefecture of Japan.) Sushi chefs are split on whether you can taste the difference between the wild and farm-raised, but the wild is without a doubt more expensive.
Imaginary risk factor aside, fugu is an acquired taste. In fact, the super lean fish is tough and almost flavorless.
“I don’t want people spending $150 per person having the expectation of eating foie gras or truffles,” Okochi told Y&H last year. “It’s not like a ‘wow’ kind of thing. It’s good. A lot of Japanese appreciate that, and some Americans appreciate that, but it’s not for everybody.”
Still, fugu maintains its allure. You can thank the Simpsons in large part for that:
Photo by Darrow Montgomery