Poisonous blowfish and other local wonders from Kokura, on Kyushu island, at restaurant Sato with Dana Cowin.

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Chef Sato Yoshimi (left) and staff grilling fava beans, bamboo shoots, blowfish milt on skewers and Shirauo fish.

Michel Bras never left his Aubrac plateau in Southern France, for the traditional chef apprenticeship at starred restaurants in Paris or Lyon. Instead, he trained with his mother at her restaurant in Laguiole, before opening his own just outside his village, in Le Suquet. Ever since, his cuisine has been all about honoring his region. Likewise, Japanese chef Sato Yoshimi chose to open his eponymous restaurant in his hometown Kokura, and dedicates his culinary skills to bring the best out of local ingredients. “Most of the seafood, meat and produce I use come from about a 10 miles (15 km) range! Kokura has so many excellent ingredients to offer, I want to provide them in the best possible way”.

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Torafugu blowfish has toxic parts which have to be removed by a licensed chef.

Kokura is located in the Northern part of Kyushu, one of the main islands of Japan. The area is famous for its wide variety of fine delicacies, including one of Japan culinary wonders : blowfish (also known as pufferfish). The only existing blowfish market in Japan is actually just off the coast from Kokura.

Editor, author and radio host Dana Cowin has been the editor-in-chief of “Food & Wine” magazine for 20 years. Last March, she went to restaurant Sato for a memorable lunch. Japanese name for blowfish is Fugu but locals call it Fuku instead as the chef explains that “ it sounds just like the word “happiness” with a “k” while it suggests bad luck with a “g”” .  And better be lucky since blowfish has several toxic parts which need to be carefully removed by a certified chef. ” Since we are at the end of the blowfish season (started from September), I have prepared some dishes with local blowfish for you today” announced the chef to a slightly worried Dana Cowin. Then he added :“Don’t worry, they have been properly prepared!”

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Blowfish sashimi topped with grated radish and local tiny scallions, served with citrus vinegar sauce and salted kelp.

Most of the Fuku parts are being used in Japanese cuisine. Chef Sato displayed his remarkable experience and skills through several  Fuku dishes : raw filet slices and skin as sashimi, half a blowfish deep fried as tempura, and last but not least, blowfish milt or sperm sacs, grilled on skewers…

Sashimi is a perfect way to enjoy the combination of delicate flavor, unique texture and umami that make Fuku so special. Chef Sato served it with the traditional grated radish and red pepper with citrus vinegar sauce, but also with salted kelp and a very special local scallion called Koutounegi :”This tiny scallion can only be found around here, this might explain why it is just the best match for Fuku!”.

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From left: milt on skewers, Shirauo fish, bamboo shoots ready to be grilled.

The milt has a soft and sticky texture that makes it hard to cook. The chef puts them on skewers then over bamboo sticks to grill over charcoal. He puts a little salt for a subtle contrast with the milt milky flavor. “I heard that in China, they call the milt “Princess Yan Guifei breast” after a legendary beauty from Ancient China. I serve it with Shirako bamboo shoot, the finest of all with a milder taste, as a nice crunchy contrast with the milt.  They come from Ouma, less than 10 miles from here. Enjoy them with shirauo fish subtle taste. They’re  also called “Lady’s fingers”. Soramame (fava beans) brings a touch of color.” 

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Shirauo fish that have been dried before grilling.

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Shirako bamboo shoots, larger and fairer than common bamboo shoots.

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Chef Sato simply grills Shirako bamboo shoot over charcoal to enhance their flavor.

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Local seasonal delicacies in a bowl with cherry blossom motif, to enjoy spring with all five senses.

Dana’s surprises continued as chef Sato served blowfish tail tempura with a piece of paper to grab it, just like fried chicken. Seasoned with shiso leaf and ginger, these tempura were exceptionally  juicy and flavorful.

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Blowfish tails ready to be seasoned and deep fried.

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Just like a piece of chicken!

Much more to come about Dana Cowin’s trip to Kokura…

Stay tuned and check also Dana Cowin’s podcast on Heritage Radio Network:

Blowfish & Other Spring Delicacies in Southern Japan

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