Fugu, also known as blowfish or pufferfish, is an exotic fish native to the Pacific Ocean. The fugu's organs---liver, skin, testicles or ovaries---and muscle contain a powerful toxin called tetrodotoxin, which is 12,00 times more poisonous than cyanide. Ingestion of this toxin is deadly, and so fugu, served exclusively in Japan, are prepared with special care by chefs. Connoisseurs claim that the best fugu experience is one in which the chef is able to leave just enough of the toxin to make your lips and mouth tingle as you eat the fish.
Chefs who wish to serve fugu must undertake a rigorous three-year training course and set of exams. The exams are both written and practical, and at the end, the chef must eat the fugu she has prepared. According to the BBC, only one quarter of all chefs who try pass the written test. Chefs who are color-blind or have otherwise poor vision, tremors or other physical conditions that would prevent them from proper identification of the fish's organs or precise preparation are not permitted to become fugu chefs.
Removing the Toxins
After the whole fish is shown to the diner, it is taken to a special part of the restaurant's kitchen used exclusively for the 30-step ritual of fugu preparation and subject to extremely rigorous sanitizing and isolation protocols for preparation. The skin is removed with a special knife used on fugu only, followed by the liver and ovaries or testicles. The skin is carefully cleaned to remove the poisonous spikes. The liver, spikes and reproductive organs are disposed of in several layers of plastic and placed in a locked biotoxins container. The knife used for this part of the procedure is removed from the area for sterilization, and the chef changes his gloves, apron and other utensils for fresh ones.
The chef then prepares the flesh and skin for eating. The flesh is cut away from the skeleton with another kind of fugu knife (so that the knives for removing the toxic parts and the edible parts are never the same) and sliced thin and served raw. The fins are removed from the skin and fried in sake, and the rest of the skin is served in a salad.
Today, many fugu are being raised in farms rather than being caught wild. Farm-raised fugu do not contain the same poison that wild fugu does. Although the taste is similar, it is not quite the same, and wild fugu continues to be a popular dish in Japan.