How to prepare fugu, a poisonous puffer fish

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I don’t have a copy of The Serpent & The Rainbow–the book by Wade Davis, not the Wes Craven film–handy but as I recall he said there are varieties of puffer fish that don’t have tetrodotoxin and even some that have it at some stages of their life but not others. He believed it might be picked up from their environment.

Take all that with at least a shaker of salt but if true would it be possible to have fugu without the risk of death?


“Specific, intensive training in preparing these deadly little bastards so people aren’t poisoned to death”? Sounds like a racket to me! I’ll just quickly watch this video and do it myself!


It’s Maker Culture. I’m going to prepare fugu myself just so I’ll finally have a chance to ride in the back of the steampunk ambulance I made.


Oh it’s totally true. We eat the northern puffer in the coastal north east. And it’s in particular considered a delacacy on Long Island. It’s delicious and completely safe. These fish bioaccumulate the toxins from their diet. The algae coral or whatever (i don’t recall) that produces tetrodotoxin is far, far less common in colder waters, and Atlantic waters than in warmer or Pacific. Likewise different species accumulate it differently, at different levels, and in different tissues.

So the blow fish we eat here are pretty much non toxic. You don’t eat the skin, or innards (especially the liver and swim bladder). They won’t kill you, but they’re unpalatable and supposedly can make you a bit sick. But they can’t kill you, and you never hear about anyone being harmed.

You can also farm fugu with limited access to the dietary sources for the toxin to produce safe fish. But it’s apparently not popular because the tingly numbness from trace amounts of toxin in the flesh is a large part of why they’re considered worth eating.


It doesn’t help that this video doesn’t actually show much of the “how”.
Here’s one that answers a bit more of that part. Not that I’d recommend running and trying it out oneself, of course.

(I saw the article’s video on another site a few days ago, and this was a common complaint)

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Words that inspire confidence. I think I’ll stick with the 60-year-old fugu master, thanks.


My Japanese friend whose father owns a fancy sushi place insists that fugu is not that great. The people mostly like it for the novelty.

He recommends monkfish instead.


It’s from bacteria, and rather than accumulating the toxins from diet – the way for instance ciguatera poisoning, which is from algae, works – it looks the fish can acquire the bacteria and keep them symbiotically. But the details seems to be surprisingly poorly known.

In particular reports of tetrodotoxin in different species have a lot of false positives. It’s been claimed from a dozen or more types of bacteria, but only one or two are well-established. I’ve seen books list it not just in different true puffers but in related porcupinefish and even molas, but most others seem to find no evidence of that. So it’s hard to say exactly how widespread it is.

Most things do seem to agree that northern puffers aren’t really without toxins, though, it just isn’t in the flesh so is easy enough to avoid.

Edited to add:

Part of how people know the toxin isn’t produced by the fish themselves is that they were able to take eggs from a poisonous puffer and raise non-poisonous fish in the lab. So it could definitely be done with any kind, if that’s what people wanted. However, I’ve also heard the traces of tetrotoxin are part of the appeal – in very small amounts they make your lips and fingers tingle.


You’d rather stick with the fugu master preparing a fish that regularly sickens and kills people, sometimes even when prepare by the fugu master, than eat an entirely safe species that’s never hospitalized anyone? That’s freely on the market in the US, a country that bans the dangerous Fugu species? Have fun with that. I’m gonna stick with my pretty much 100% safe, cheap, and regularly available in season deep fried goodness.

Right, from what I understand most/all species of puffer have some level of toxin in them. The differences are in how much and where. The northern puffers there isn’t any in the flesh, and the levels in the parts of the fish you don’t eat aren’t high enough to kill or hospitalize you.

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They even admit in the video that fugu is virtually flavorless. It looks like it’s served as sashimi with unflavored soft tofu squares and enoki mushrooms; that would be a very very bland meal indeed, but I guess you can say you’ve eaten fugu and ‘survived’.

I think I'll stick with the 60-year-old fugu master, thanks.
Really? 60-year old fugu master tastes gamy.

Apparently the major appeal is actually the toxin, rather than the taste. The tingly numb feeling that comes with a noticeable but not neccisarily dangerous dose is what people are after.

I’ve had Japanese people, including a sushi chef tell me the ones we eat locally tastes exactly like fugu, but without the tingles. They’re a pretty mild, flakey white fish. But far from flavorless. It’s similar to striped bass, but milder. Like flounder by more savory. Monkfish is a decent comparison point, but monk fish is oilier and slightly fishier. In part because it’s almost always cooked on the bone it’s got that great sticky texture that good fish cooked on the bone tends to get. And a subtle but noticeable savory/umami thing that’s unusual in very mild, light fish. A lot of people compare them to chicken wings, mostly because the format they’re served in is kinda chicken wingy. But it’s an apt description.

But then I imagine they’d be pretty bland raw.


See, that’s what’s weird – in the video, they say exactly that, but then they say that the fish is served 100% toxin-free, and the chef says “if we ever broke the law and had any tiny bit of toxin in the fish, we’d be ruined”. I can only assume that there are secret fugu bars that serve slightly-toxic fugu under the table.

Isn’t that the same thing as not 100% safe? Maybe it will only make you a little bit dead. :grin:


The meat is 100%. I’m not about to promise that if you spend your time noshing on the livers you won’t end up feeling miserable from time to time. I’ve eaten thousands of the damn things (they’re small), and a few million pounds get ate every year. I’ve actively checked, and never found an account of anyone being poisoned.

@nungesser maybe he’s using “toxin” to mean the parts of the fish that straight kill you? As opposed to those that just make your bits go fizzy?


But the most distinctive part of fugu’s flavor is the slight tingling and numbness it creates in your mouth from the trace quantities of the toxin.

Yeah because it’s mostly served raw. Much of the flavor and what makes the northern puffers I eat distinct comes with how it’s cooked. The whole skinned tail is grilled or fried. Fugu is normally served as sashimi and as a quickly cooked soup from the safe(ish) but not sashimiable bits. I don’t think my puffers would have much going on if treated that way. Fillet the meat off the tail and cook by other methods and it’s not too dissimilar from black fish or porgy.


I’ll stick to drinking, thanks.