Origami's fugu karaage (deep-fried blowfish): Not just for the thrill of it

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Kei Terauchi
The potentially deadly fugu is a veritable winter delicacy
Last winter Origami received attention by becoming the first restaurant in Minnesota to serve fugu, Japanese blowfish.

The hype around fugu's grand arrival in Minnesota was mainly focused on the danger of the fish. While it's true that fugu can be lethally poisonous due to its tetrodotoxin, the actual taste and the experience of this seasonal delicacy seemed to be merely an afterthought.

Nobody would recommend a nonchalant attitude toward food poisoning. But the fact is, there are 20 times the number of fatal accidents than food-borne illnesses.

Daredevils, are you disappointed?

Fugu is back at Origami this year. It's time to move past its notoriety and enjoy its distinct flavor and texture. We tried a taste of fugu karaage, deep-fried blowfish.


Fugu Karaage zoom.JPG
Kei Terauchi
Fugu may be the Cornish Hen of the Sea
Origami serves fugu three ways: sashimi, hire (fin) sake, and karaage. The paper-thin sashimi is delicate in flavor and unique in its texture. Served hot, the hire sake is like a light fish-based broth--a very alcoholic broth, that is.

But perhaps the most satisfying way of savoring fugu is the karaage. Brushed with soy and dredged in corn starch, bone-in hunks of the fish are deep-fried to a juicy perfection. There is no dainty way of eating this. Roll up your sleeves, forgo your chopsticks, and ask for a new oshibori (hot towel). Your best bet is to dig in with your hands like chicken wings.

Fugu meat.JPG
Kei Terauchi
Flesh of fugu resembles meat more than fish
And that's what the experience is like: Eating extremely refined chicken wings. The flavor of deep-fried fugu is distinctly meaty, but without the gaminess that accompanies real meat of any kind. Despite being a plump fish, fugu has virtually no fat, but miraculously transforms into succulent fare when cooked.

In an order of fugu karaage, you'll find six pieces: two pieces of the spine, plus the head, the underbelly (called uguisu, or the nightingale, for its shape), the beak, and the collar. Shaped like a boomerang, the collar is the biggest piece. The beak has a bit of the skin, which has a delightfully rich and gelatinous texture.

Fugu bones.JPG
Kei Terauchi
All gone... Until next winter
As the fugu season normally runs from November to March in Japan, savoring fugu means savoring winter itself. The arrival of spring is a much-awaited relief from the chill, but also means saying goodbye to fugu karaage until next winter.

Because of regulations surrounding the import of fugu, its season is abbreviated in the U.S. Origami expects to serve it until the end of February. Go on and savor the season. And maybe spring will come around sooner than you expect.

ORIGAMI
30 First St. N., Minneapolis
612.333.8430; website
*Best to call for fugu availability


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