Fugu Is Back at Kata Robata, While Supplies Last; I Tried It and Lived to Tell the Tale
Every December, puffer fish get even, well, puffier, as they pack on fat to survive the chilly winter. And that's when we snatch them up and eat them.
Photo by Kaitlin Steinberg Various cuts of fugu (excluding the poisonous ones) on display before they're turned into masterpieces at Kata Robata.
In Japan, blowfish, puffer fish and globefish are all called fugu, and their meat is a delicacy available only during the winter months. The delicacy comes with a price, though, in more ways than one: Fugu is rare, and therefore expensive, and oh yeah, it could kill you.
Blowfish is generally considered the second-most poisonous vertebrate in the world (after the golden poison frog), and as such, chefs must be certified to slice and dice it. The poison is mostly found in the fish's organs -- especially the liver, eyes and ovaries -- and chefs must be careful to slice around these and not contaminate the knife with poisonous tetrodotoxin.
Chef Manabu Horiuchi (affectionately known as Hori) of Kata Robata is one of only about a dozen chefs in the U.S. certified to filet blowfish. Unfortunately, U.S. law does not allow whole blowfish to be delivered to restaurants, so Hori gets his fish already cleaned from purveyors on the east coast, even though he knows how to clean them himself.
Kata Robata just received some blowfish, and chef Hori will be preparing it for brave diners this week, while supplies last. Here's a sneak peek of what he'll be offering.
Photo by Kaitlin Steinberg
The first course of fugu is a very traditional preparation, according to Hori. In Japan, people eat every bit of the fugu they can because so much must be thrown away because of the tetrodotoxin. As such, the chargrilled fins are a delicacy, and are served in hot sake and "eaten" in a shot. Of course, the fin must be chewed, which released the smoky flavor imparted by the grilling, along with the flavor of the sake.