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What Does Fugu Taste Like?

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Fugu sashimi on a platter

If you eat out at high-end Japanese restaurants enough, you’ll eventually bump into fugu. Also known as blowfish or pufferfish, its liver contains tetrodotoxin which can be lethal, even in small doses. Due to its deadly toxin, this seafood can only be prepared by qualified chefs at licensed eating establishments.

If you’re up for a culinary challenge then you may want to know what does fugu taste like? We’re about to provide all the details on this fish’s flavor, texture, and which part of the fish is best to eat. Let’s get started.

How does fugu taste?

Fugu has a very mild whitefish-like flavor with a pure and clean quality to it. Its taste is subtle which is fairly unique for seafood, and is part of why the dish is sought after. Its texture will vary significantly depending on how it is cooked. Served raw as sashimi, it is chewy and resilient, a little like squid that’s been on the heat a few seconds too long. Once cooked, it transforms into delicate, soft-textured flesh. However, the fugu is extremely lean so when it is overcooked by even a few seconds, its texture will become unpleasant and tough.

Culinary uses

The blowfish will vary in taste depending on the cooking method and which parts of the fish are used. We’ve listed a few ways the flavor can differ below:

1. Fugu sashimi

A plater of fugu sashimi
Fugu sashimi is sliced into thin pieces.

This meal is known as tessa in Japan and is the most common method of serving fugu; it uses the main fillet of the fish. The slices are cut very thin in a Carpaccio style – a lot thinner than regular sashimi. The meat can be a little tough if it is too thick.

This dish is often served on a colorful plate, which can be seen through the thinly cut meat. The meat is garnished with extras like edible flowers or daikon, and ponzu sauce or a similar flavorful condiment. Not sure what ponzu is all about? Check out how ponzu and soy compare to get a better understanding.

Some diners experience a slight numbness on their lips, believed to be from traces of the poison, although not everyone experiences this sensation.

Did you know? Chefs will often assemble the fish pieces to look like a chrysanthemum. In Japan, this flower is a symbol of death.

2. Fugu skin

The skin can be served raw with sashimi, but cooking it tends to enhance the flavor. It is deliciously deep-fried until crispy, in salads, or grilled in slices which are ideal for dipping into the sauce.

3. Hot pot

Top down view of fugu hot pot ingredients
A selection of ingredients to make fugu hotpot.

Tecchiri, or hot pot, is a popular method of cooking fugu and it allows the chef to explore the use of additional ingredients. A hot pot may include both the flesh and skin, and it is usually cooked in a dashi broth. Different regions within Japan have their signature dishes which use closely-guarded recipes.

4. Milt

The milt, or shirako, is considered a delicacy and is the prized part of the fish for the Japanese. For westerners, this isn’t so much the case! The milt is the sperm sac, or male genitalia, and is only available briefly in early spring. The flavor of this food is best compared to curds from milk, exceptionally creamy, without the dairy flavor to it. Milt can be eaten raw or cooked and is popularly deep-fried in tempura batter.

5. Smoked fins

Fugu fin sake
An unusual beverage, fugu fin infused sake.

A creative use for the fins is to smoke them and infuse into sake for a smoky, mildly fishy flavor. Source.

6. Karaage

This dish marinates the fish in soy sauce, sake, ginger, garlic, and salt. The fish is then doused in potato starch and flour, then deep-fried. Eating a blowfish, cooked karaage style, is an excellent option for newcomers to the seafood. The meal is a lot closer to traditional battered fish than some of the other options.

7. Tataki

To cook fugu tataki, the chef will briefly sear the fillet so that it is browned on the outside but raw in the middle. This dish is commonly served with ponzu sauce, Japanese ginger, or fresh sudachi for a sour burst of flavor.

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Fast facts about fugu

  • Tetrodotoxin contained in the spikes is more poisonous than cyanide. About 1200 times more powerful, to be exact. The fish looks small and harmless until threatened, then it puffs up and aggressively exposes a spiky armor.
  • This fish is the only delicacy forbidden to be fed to the Japanese Emperor.
  • Approximately 100 people die from fugu poisoning each year, mostly due to incorrect preparation by inexperienced cooks.
  • Sale of fugu in the European Union is banned and lethal parts like the liver cannot be sold.
  • There are less than 20 restaurants that serve fugu in the United States, the vast majority being located in New York City.
Blowfish before and after shots
The puffer fish can expand rapidly when confronted.

Summing up

Are you ready to try the deadly fugu for the first time? It’s a special dish with a lot of hype surrounding it. This probably wasn’t helped by the infamous Simpson’s episode in Season Two which put the dish front and center for a mass audience around the world.

So does this fish live up to its name? The answer will depend on who has made it. An experienced chef in Japan will prepare it to perfection, adding just the right additional ingredients, and cooking it with exact precision. Anything less, and the fish will disappoint.

It is one of those ingredients that gets your expectations high. But at the end of the day, it’s a fairly bland, squid-textured seafood that isn’t that extraordinary. Put in the right chef’s hands you will leave the restaurant satisfied. Is it worth the high price tag? We’ll let you decide on that.

What is the weirdest food you’ve ever eaten? We’re on the search for the craziest foods on offer. Let us know in the comments below.