Asian Carp: It's what's for dinner?


This week, the Supreme Court is deciding if it should force the state of Illinois to close Chicago-area locks and dams to stop the fast-breeding Asian carp, which have been working their way up the Mississippi River, from entering the Great Lakes and threatening the livelihood of commercial fisherman. (The carp are an invasive species introduced via government fish hatcheries and ponds in the 1970s.)

Long thought of as a trash fish--carp has a mild flavor, a fishy odor, and lots of bones--the new thought on Asian carp seems to be: If you can't beat 'em, eat 'em.

A recent Chicago Tribune article discusses carp's popularity among ethnic communities--the Vietnamese cook carp in coconut milk with lemon grass and chili peppers, the Polish soak it in milk and onions--and Illinois' Schafer Fisheries, which processes 12 million pounds of carp a year, most of which is shipped to China, Japan, Canada, and Europe, plus a few ethnic restaurants and markets in major U.S. cities. (In 2006, Schafer discussed the idea of feeding carp meat to feed prisoners with Springfield legislators, but the response was tepid.)

My favorite part of the article discusses the problem with Reggie McLeod, editor and publisher of Minnesota-based Big River Magazine:

"My dad always told me (carp) was inedible," McLeod said. "But I have fished a lot and eaten a lot of fish, and carp has a very mild taste that I really like."

McLeod became so taken with the smoked and pickled varieties his friends offered him that his publication, Big River Magazine, sponsored a contest last year asking every chef, angler and fish-lover in Minnesota, Iowa and western Illinois to submit their favorite carp recipes to be judged by the magazine.

"No one entered," he said, somewhat deflated. "I guess we have a way to go still before it catches on."

McLeod, though, says with all the recent buzz about Asian carp he plans to relaunch the recipe contest this year.

Others believe the fish's only chance at mainstream acceptance is having a renowned chef work it into his or her repertoire. Any local chefs want to take that challenge on?