Ordering fried seafood at a restaurant in Georgia isn’t unusual. But what is unusual at Avocados Restaurant on the downtown Gainesville square is the fish hiding inside that crispy breading.
Avocados recently started selling blowfish, also known as puffer fish or fugu, as a special on its menu. The fish, which is considered a delicacy as sashimi, or raw, in Japan is highly toxic if not prepared properly. It contains tetrodotoxin, a neurotoxin more deadly than cyanide, found in most parts of the fish except the actual meat.
“I (had) never tried it,” said Albert Lunalover, co-owner at Avocados. “It’s something different. ... It’s not poisonous. If the seafood distributor is selling it to me, it’s not poisonous.”
Avocados gets its blowfish from a distributor in Atlanta, Inland Seafood, which has been around since 1977. Inland supplies seafood to more than 5,500 restaurants, making it “the largest full-line processor and distributor of more than 2,000 fresh, frozen, smoked and specialty seafood items in the Southeast.”
The Food and Drug Administration has strict laws in place for the purchase and sale of blowfish. Because of the possible danger involved with eating it, “commercial importation of (blowfish) into the United States is heavily restricted” and “personal importation is prohibited.”
When the FDA’s advisory on blowfish was updated in 2014, Wako International, a company in New York was the “only acceptable source of imported (blowfish).”
Lunalover said he doesn’t worry about the toxicity of the blowfish he sells because he trusts Inland. As he was speaking with his distributor one day, Lunalover said blowfish was available, so he wanted to give it a shot.
“It was just different, and something I’ve never worked with before, so I thought, ‘Why not try?’” Lunalover said. “What the heck? What do I have to lose?”
He said he looked up online the best way to prepare it and saw it’s easiest to treat blowfish like shrimp. Just the tails are used at Avocados, and Lunalover said he has both pan fried and deep fried the fish for guests. He said it tastes like a mix between cod and lobster and is a very mild, white fish.
“We get it raw, and we clean it up a little bit,” Lunalover said. “It has a small bone in the middle.”
Once cooked, Avocados serves the fried, bone-in blowfish with fresh green beans, roasted heirloom tomatoes, mashed potatoes and a soy-ginger sauce. It’s also served the fish blackened with grits and broccoli in a lemon-butter sauce, or for something more simple, fried with a spring-mix salad.
“Everyone liked it,” Lunalover said. “Nobody complained. I think people are willing to try different stuff.”
He said it went over so well, he’s going to order more sometime soon.
“People accepted it pretty good, and that’s what’s good with our clientele,” Lunalover said. “People are flexible and willing to try different stuff.”