China legalizes eating a pufferfish bred to be nonpoisonous

Chinese fish farms have successfully bred seven generations of Takifugu rubripes and ten generations of Takifugu obscurus that lack the gene that causes normal specimens of these pufferfish species to produce a deadly toxin that means near-instant death for anyone who eats a fish whose poison has not been completely removed during preparation.

In response, the Chinese government has lifted its ban on serving pufferfish in restaurants, and April Puffer, the country's leading pufferfish restaurant, is expanding the operations it had run under an experimental license.

The fishery is expected to open a lucrative new trade with Japan, where fugu is an expensive and difficult-to-prepare delicacy.

“If they can’t distinguish between the species, poisonings can easily happen,” he says. “For cooking, Takifugu rubripes is [used in] both Japanese- and Chinese-style dishes, while Takifugu obscurus is only used for Chinese dishes.

“For Japanese dishes, chefs cut the fish into different parts [which are prepared using] different cooking methods. No part of the fish is wasted. Even the skin is used for salads, after the bristles are removed. Chefs have to learn how to make thin and even slices [of the flesh] for sashimi.

“For Chinese cooking, the whole fish is braised or served in a soup. Diners have to be told to turn the fish over when eating so the bristle-laden skin is not consumed. The puffer’s muscles are tight, so it tastes a bit hard and chewy. Chefs have to learn how to make the flesh soft and tasty.”

Pufferfish in China: diners lured by delicacy now country has bred them poison-free [Elaine Yau/South China Morning Post]

(Image: Raita Futo, CC-BY)