The New York Times reported yesterday on an area where liver is being sold in restaurants despite an official ban–and they’re not talking about Chicago. In Japan, the poisonous liver of the fugu (puffer fish) is considered so delicious that gourmands have been braving death for hundreds of years to try it. Even a taste can be lethal–people have even died merely from eating parts of the fish that have come into contact with the liver–and there’s no antidote to tetrodotoxin, the poison in it.
Japanese scientist Tamao Noguchi, however, has been studying the toxin for years and believes it’s produced not by the fish itself but rather by bacteria in its food. That would mean that farmed fugu, which accounts for 90 percent of the fugu consumed in Japan, is poison-free. Many restaurants have secretly started to serve the liver of farmed fish, but the National Fugu Association refuses to approve its legalization, insisting that farmed fugu can still be dangerous. So while fugu liver is widely available, you won’t find it on any menus. As one Japanese tourism official said, “Officially, you can never eat it here. Well, it’s not that you can’t eat it, but, no, you can’t eat it.” Sound familiar?
It doesn’t sound like fugu liver will be available in Chicago anytime soon, officially or unofficially. Only specially trained chefs are allowed to prepare fugu, and according to Ai Sushi manager Sandy Lim, Toyoji Hemmi is the only chef in the midwest licensed to do so. Hemmi, who divides his time between Ai and sister restaurant Tsuki, serves fugu when it’s in season (from November to January), but has no plans to start offering the liver.