April 22, 2012

Duty & The Blowfish

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , — geoff @ 3:21 pm

Good morning and greetings, warm weather fans. Well, it must be springtime, as temperatures skyrocketed last week here on the central coast. After a moist March and early April, the skies have turned Carolina blue, and this warming trend can only mean one thing. Yes, it’s a perfect time for the NBA playoffs and to go fishing.

According to a story by outdoor writer Tom Stienstra of the San Francisco Chronicle, “mid-April to late June promises to be a magical time in Northern California,” unless, of course you’re a Golden State Warrior fan. After seven weeks of on and off rain, my sinuses and hundreds of lakes are settling and clearing as the wonderful world of boating, rainbow trout fishing, and my personal favorite, synchronized swimming come to life.

The key for these activities is water temperature and how I look in a one piece bathing suit. When the lake’s water temperature lies in the 58-to-70-degree range, bass, trout, tuna, catfish, dogfish, bluegill and Vince Gill become active and want to get their mojo on, meaning they’re hungry, and this willl provide the best fishing of the year. And you know what they say, a bad day of fishing is better than a good day at work.

On the local front, the fishing has been great here in Monterey Bay, as the salmon have been as plentiful as TV dramas lined up on my TiVo screen. Although conditions have been somewhat unpredictable, boats have been going out and anglers are coming home with fresh king salmon, along with pink rice pilaf and avocado puree. That’s called trolling with an imagination. Or as Oprah or Charles Hass once said, “Give a man a fish, and he can eat for a day. But teach a man how to fish and he’ll be dead from mercury poisoning inside of three years.”

And that leads me into today’s torrid topic. In a story by Mio Coxon written for Reuters.com, for more than sixty years, Tokyo has been the province for a small band of strictly regulated and licensed chefs, who slice and dice blowfish while working in exclusive restaurants like Joi Ito, Red Lobster, and Konnichiwaschnitzel.

But hold on a moment, Benihana fans. Starting in October, new laws are coming into effect that are going to make the preparation of blowfish seem like the wild, wild west, as resturants without licensed chefs will have a shot at serving these poisonous puffers.

These new laws are driving the licensed chefs crazy, as they have spent time and money learning how to prepare the poisonous blowfish for their customers, and now with the new rules, any Tom, Dick or Hiroki can handle them without a license. And we’re talking about a fish that’s more poisonous than Facebook.

Blowfish, much like Twinkies or Hostess Cupcakes in America, are considered a delicacy in Japan. A poison known as tetrododoxin is found in parts of the blowfish, including the liver, heart, Ann and Nancy Wilson, intestines and eyes, ears, nose and throat. It is so intense that a tiny amount will kill the average sushi lover. It’s more deadly than cyanide, Rush Limbaugh or the Koch Brothers.

Every year there are reports of people dying after preparing blowfish or fish sticks at home. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government says city laws covering the serving of blowfish should be changed to reflect changing times and hope that relaxing the rules will cut prices and bring Tokyo in line with the rest of the Land of the Rising Sun. The hope is that blowfish as an ingredient will be used not only for traditional Japanese foods but others such as Chinese (sweet and sour blowfish) and Western foods (spaghetti and blowfish balls.)

A full course meal of blowfish features delicacies such as blowfish tempura, slices of raw fish thin enough to see through fanned out across a plate like chrysanthemum petals, toasted fins in cups of hot sake along with a cup of jello jigglers for dessert. But the meal is far from cheap, as diners pay for the safety of a licensed chef. A dinner costs at least 10,000 yen ($120) a person, not including tip or the cost of an ambulance waiting outside.

Now here’s where it gets interesting. Some thrill seeking diners are reputed to seek out chefs who leave just enough of the poison to make the lips tingle. Blowfish professionals scoff at this as urban legend, noting that ingesting even that much of the poison would be extremely hazardous. Personally, I prefer my poison on the side. Or as Lady Nancy Astor once said to Winston Churchill, “If you were my husband, I’d poison your tea.” Replied Winston, “Lady, if I were your husband, I’d drink it.”

Much like writing a weekly unpaid blog, preparing and cooking the blowfish is an art form that requires technique and skills. And unlike my posts, that’s why people pay good money for it. Because of Master Chef Naohito Hashimoto’s years of training, it takes him just two minutes to gut a blowfish, which is about the same amount of time it takes me to remember what font I’m supposed to be writing in. The chef says there is no substitute for this kind of experience and that “I don’t want people to forget that you can actually die from eating blowfish, because that really cuts down on the tip.”

For today’s photo hot plate, we are heading up to the cliffs above Davenport for a late March sunset. I thought this night had some colorful potential, so I took the nine-mile drive up the coast to be one with the Monterey Cypress trees. Unfortunately, the colors didn’t pan out the way I had hoped, but just being at this location with the wind blowing and the sea birds cruising by is always a hat trick and a treat.

On to the late night. “President Obama released his tax returns. It turns out he made $900,000 less in 2011 then he did in 2010. You know what that means? Even Obama is doing worse under President Obama. In an interview, President Obama said he prefers Jay-Z to Kanye. Did you know Obama was a fan of hip-hop? In fact, he has his own rap nickname, Biggie Deficit.” –Jay Leno

“Conservatives are now criticizing President Obama because as a child in Indonesia he sometimes ate dog meat. But on the plus side, Obama is now polling very well among cats.” –Conan O’Brien “Rick Santorum has suspended his presidential campaign. He dropped out after spending a weekend in prayer, and then realizing he didn’t have one, he dropped out.” –Jay Leno

“Did you hear how they caught those Secret Service agents with prostitutes in Colombia? Apparently the men were walking around wearing nothing but their sunglasses and those earpieces. The Secret Service prostitution scandal has gotten worse because apparently agents were also snorting cocaine. However, in the agents’ defense, the Colombian hotels offer cocaine in the mini bar.” –Conan O’Brien

“Newt Gingrich gave a speech at a senior center. Or as audience members put it, ‘Unplug me.’” –Jimmy Fallon “Yesterday, North Korea launched a big long-range missile. It was supposed to scare everybody. It exploded less than a minute after launching. In fact, leader Kim Jong Un was so mad, he went home, kicked his dog, and then ate it.” –Jay Leno

So another week is in the e-books. We’ll catch you passing the Big O, Oscar Robertson and moving into fifth place among the all-time career assist leaders. Aloha, mahalo and later, Steve Nash fans.


  1. A great blog on Blow Fish this week. An amazing cusine journey.
    Are the blow fish customers cigarette smokers too?

    Comment by Babs — April 23, 2012 @ 7:14 am

  2. Your blog is also a rare delicacy that can only be savored once a week but unlike blowfish it is not potentially fatal unless one can die from laughing. Nice work!

    Comment by JaVale McGee — April 23, 2012 @ 8:19 am

  3. Bowfish? Sounds like a deviant aquatic sex act. We did a lot of fish growing up and anything oming out of the Hudson River was just as dangerous. Meanwhile, the weather has driven the pollen count up like crazy and my sneezing is worse than a Ron Artest celebration. Metta World Peace is more like Meeta My Elbow.

    Comment by John Salmons — April 23, 2012 @ 8:55 am

  4. For a second I thought your post was about groupies willing to do almost anything to meet the band Phish. But I did once see Florence Joyner Griffith at a Howard Johnson’s eating an inebriated white Rhinoceros. Yes, Flo Jo at a Ho Jo with an Albino Wino Rhino, but that meal was safer than my blowfish poison penmanship.

    Comment by Kim Jong Un-successful — April 23, 2012 @ 9:14 pm

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