One of the two most unique invertebrates on the planet and at a price not cheap, puffer fish is still loved by the Japanese and chosen to make sushi – a traditional specialty of the cherry land.
Always on the list of the most expensive Japanese dishes, a serving of puffer sashimi can cost a family about $ 200 for 8 pieces when dining at 3 Michelin 3-star restaurants.
Not only expensive, diners ordering puffer fish sashimi also have to bet their lives if they want to enjoy the food mentioned above. Because only a milligram of this fish’s poison can take the life of an adult man in less than an hour with a painful death.
So, why are pufferfish – one of the two unique species of vertebrates on the planet – still present in Japanese culture, and contribute to the country’s culinary industry millions of dollars each year?
In fact, Japanese puffer fish is not famous as tuna, or Kobe beef, but each year, the island nation still exports a large amount to the United States. The price per serving of 50 grams of fish meat tastes not much different from chicken up to 200 USD, even more expensive if it is a wild puffer fish.
To be able to serve puffer fish dishes, Japanese chefs will have to undergo 2 years of training. They also need about three years of apprenticeship, before being able to personally cut a fish to a customer. Kunio Miura – a master of puffer fish – learned to cut this fish from the age of 15. Miura had to practice on hundreds of fish, accept hundreds of thousands of yen, pass a difficult exam with only 60% chance of success, to become a puffer fish attendant when he turns 20 years old.
So far, despite having 60 years of experience, he is still extremely cautious when handling a puffer fish because a mistake even the smallest can take away the lives of customers. First, Mr. Miura will cut open the head of the fish, clean the brain and eyes, carefully place on a metal tray marked “inedible”. After that, the next step is to remove the skin, cut the intestines and remove all the internal organs of the fish, especially the liver and ovaries.
“Tetrodotoxin of puffer fish is 200 times more toxic than cyanide. Death will come quickly but painfully, first numb mouth, then blood vessels. There is no antidote,” Miura said.
All poisonous parts of the puffer fish will be put into metal tray and locked. After that, people will bring the tray to the fish market and destroy them in the oven with wood chips.
For those who love puffer fish, dishes made from this species are bold with the quintessence of Japanese cuisine. Today, Shimonoseki is called the “Capital of Japanese Puffer Fish”. Seafood connoisseurs in Japan tell each other that the market in Haedomari is the only place in the country of cherry specializing in making famous dishes from pufferfish, one of Japan’s favorite oyster paints.
Toshiharu Hata now runs one of the largest puffer wholesalers in Shimonoseki. His father, who founded the family’s puffer fish company 40 years ago, said that traditionally, puffer fish was used in a way that was processed into thin pieces of tang meat. Afterwards, the dish is ornate in the form of white daisies, Mount Fuji or in the form of animals such as peacocks, turtles and butterflies on elaborate ceramic plates.
“Each puffer fish plate is a work of art, a scientific feat of processing and decoration art,” he said.