I’ve only had the opportunity to try carp on a few occasions, but each time it was in a different, nondescript dive bar perched just a few steps away from some sort of muddy river or creek. Though the provenance of the fried fillets filling the paper-lined basket was never stated, the implication was the fish hadn’t journeyed far from water to Fry-o-lator.
Why eat carp at such a place? Well mostly because that’s generally where carp is served. With few exceptions, Joe Tess Place in Omaha being perhaps the most famous, your typical urban restaurant doesn’t feature carp on the menu. That’s too bad really, because when I have eaten carp, it was pretty good. The white flesh was firm and mildly flavorful without any hint of muddiness that most people (who likely got their information second-hand) claim carp taste like. I suppose you could get fancy with the fillets, but why would you when battered carp with a side of fries makes for excellent bar food.
You don’t have to frequent dive bars like I do to try carp. As you well know, there are plenty of them swimming the country’s waterways, including the millions of Asian carp making their way up the major river systems in the Midwest. Next time you catch one, I encourage you to try eating it. You may be surprised to find out they’re not only edible, but also delicious.
There are a couple of keys to cleaning carp that are worth noting here. Carp fillets have a pronounced blood line, or streak of red meat down the center. This is where the muddy or “off” flavor comes from, so be sure to remove it prior to cooking. Carp are also bony creatures and like pike have a series of Y-bones that also need to be removed. Starting at about the 1:30 mark, this video from the Missouri Department of Conservation illustrates both of these steps.
Have any Wild Chef readers tried cooking carp? I’d love to hear about your experience, especially if it goes beyond the standard Fry Daddy treatment.