Today, January 9th …
The London Times carried an article on this day in 1999 reporting the death of a fugutsu - an aficionado of the fugu or puffer fish, which is an expensive delicacy. There is a traditional Japanese saying: “those who eat fugu soup are stupid, but those who do not eat fugu soup are also stupid.”
In its natural habitat the puffer fish gives its potential predators a more than reasonable warning; it puffs itself up into an ugly spiky ball, becoming very unappetising looking to put off those who do not already know that this is puffer-fish-speak for “Danger! I contain a lethal tetradoxin which is similar to curare, and is 1200 times more dangerous than cyanide”. Each fish contains enough poison to kill 30 adults and it kills quickly, but probably not quickly enough for the unfortunate (or stupid) victim, by paralysing the respiratory muscles so that breathing stops while consciousness is maintained.
The training of a fugu chef is very rigorous: the internal organs of the fish, which contain most of the poison, must be carefully removed without any contamination of the flesh as an amount that will fit on the head of a pin will kill the customer. In the unfortunate event that this happens, the chef would once have been expected to fall on his sword – quite literally, by committing seppuku or ritual suicide by disembowelling.
If you want an exciting seafood dining experience, but aren’t quite prepared to play Japanese roulette, there are some scary sounding fish bits that no-one eats anymore.
From Eliza Acton’s “Modern Cookery for Private Families” (1845)
To boil Cod’s Sounds.
Should they be highly salted, soak them for a night, and on the following day rub off entirely the discoloured skin; wash them well, lay them into plenty of cold milk and water, and boil them gently from thirty to forty minutes, or longer should they not be quite tender. Clear off the scum as it rises with great care, or it will sink and adhere to the sounds, of which the appearance will then be spoiled. Drain them well, dish them on a napkin, and send egg sauce and plain melted butter to table with them.
A cod’s sound is the swim (or floatation) bladder of the fish. You can batter and deep fry the bits after the preliminary boiling, if you prefer.
I’ll risk Death by Chocolate, thanks.
Tomorrow: Getting the sauce on vegetables.