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Eating Carp

  • m

I have always heard that carp is a coarse fish. When I see carp, they look ugly and not very appetizing. Carp seem to enjoy muddy, slow moving streams. Eating carp seems pretty low brow.

On the other hand, fried carp is prized in Alsace, France. This fish is honored with one or more seasonal festivals in Alsace. It seems that I have heard that in former days nobles used to prize carp and restrict the hoi poloi from eating carp.

Are these fish different fish in the US versus Europe? Is the bum rap of carp in the US undeserved? Does anyone have some explanation?

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  1. My take on carp in America is: carp are not as desirable as other available fish (for food). Carp can be unpleasant tasting, boney, and the waters they inhabit can be unpleasant. America has many more fish that are tasty, attractive, easy to eat.

    My take on carp in Europe is: waters in Europe are unpleasant and many of the fish that live in Europe's waters are also unpleasant. Due to a couple of centuries more (than the US) of pollution and disregard for natural resources, they don't have anything else.

    BTW, I fish for carp; catch and release.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Alan408

      A Euro friend of mine says that carp are very popular in his area (southern Bavaria). But once you catch them, you have to transfer them into a pool or tank with clean water and feed them clean food for a while before you eat them to get rid of the "muddy" taste.

      1. re: Alan408

        "Waters in Europe are unplessant" - can you plase generalize a bit more? Europe has far stricter environmental laws than the US and its air and water quality keep improving, unlike what's happening here in the US. Many rivers are cleaner now than they were throuhout the 20th century and have seen the return of species originally driven out by pollution (beavers, otters, crayfish, kingfishers, etc.) The rivers that are not clean are NOT used for commercial fishing.

        Carp is a non-marine (freshwater) fish that's easy to breed and can grow to a great size. As such, it has been a popular fish to breed in many parts of Continental Europe for centuries. Just about all carp that are sold commercially in Europe are bred in artificial lakes, not in the (theoretically polluted) rivers. However, carp are not carnivorous; they are bottom-feeders, and what they eat (or are fed) influences the texture of their meat and their flavor. Hungarian carp, for example, are (like much US beef) fed corn, which gives them a softer texture. Czech carp are firmer and less "sweet". And yes, after being removed from the pond they are usually kept for several days in running clear water to rinse out any muddy flavor.

        However, it's still a fairly bony fish and many Americans may find it difficult.

        We'll see where the US gets compared to Europe in terms of clean water and air if this administration gets another 4 years.

      2. Freshly ground carp was or still is a primary ingredient in gefilte fish.

        1. I was raised in a home where I was forced to endure the weekly trauma of carp for most of my childhood. Honestly, I'm still in recovery so this is a bit difficult for me to discuss with strangers. But I guess it's important that I open up and get over my shame and horror, so I'll try to be frank here.

          Every Thursday my mother would buy a live carp at the, I don't know, carp store I guess. They would kill it for her and she would lug it home. Then, she would cut it up into big chunks and put it in a large pot with carrots, celery and other innocent vegetables who'd never done anything bad in their entire lives. And she would boil the whole business together.

          That, alone, would have been bad enough.

          But then she had to chill it. Oh yes. Chill it until the broth solidified into a wobbly, gelatinous mass - chunks of boiled fish suspended in an murky aspic of stinky fish broth with hapless vegetables trapped desperately inside.

          And then we would have to eat it. Or try, anyway. My father loved it. In my case, however, this consisted of me pushing the jellied bits of quivering goo around my plate until it looked as if I'd eaten some of it. The fish itself was brown and icky. The vegetables were horrid beyond description.

          The cat, under the table, was happy.

          Carp is not a good thing to eat. Carp should be allowed to live their lives unmolested in the bottom of whatever muddy pond they wish to inhabit. I, personally, will never eat one again.

          5 Replies
          1. re: Nyleve

            That's a hilarious post about the carp! In central Missouri, when I was a kid, people tried wrapping it in foil and grilling it for a long time - don't think it was successful, though. I never had to try it. D.

            I think the poor carp are one of the ugliest fish I have ever seen.

            1. re: Donna - MI

              I don't find them so ugly...and they are closely related to Koi, which just look like brightly dressed up carp, and go for many thousands of dollars to collectors...

              1. re: shrimpbird
                Pastor Brenda

                We just finally got to the point where we can catch carp. We're working on how to cook and eat them now. They actually taste good (in my humble opinion), the problem is the bones-the floating bones they have throughout them-if anyone has any ideas, tricks, recipes etc., PLEASE EMAIL ME!

                1. re: Pastor Brenda

                  Watch how they score the carp at this restaurant specializing in fried carp (called Joe Tess in Omaha, Nebraska). This is probably the one item I've seen on Diners, Drive-ins, & Dives that I'm really dying to try. It looks delicious! Supposedly, the scoring helps with the bone problem. Hope this helps.


                  EDIT: sorry, don't know how to email you. hope you see this post instead

                  1. re: seamunky

                    Most of the posts on this thread date to 2004. So the posters might not be around.

          2. I've had carp in Chinese seafood places. Fresh, live carp swimming in tanks.
            I was told each time by the waiters that "you won't like." Fortunately they could explain: the carp is full of bones.
            So it was: maddeningly needle-sharp bones throughout the flesh, not easy to debone. But the flesh was sweet and not at all muddy. Very tasty, but a lot of work to eat.
            I suspect that if you cook it for a while the bones get soft (similar to the bones in canned salmon). Hence the long-stewed carp in aspic recipe in a previous post makes sense. Also if you grind it you obviously can deal with the bones (as in gefilte fish). Chinese quick-steaming leaves the bones intact.

            1. I love deep-fried carp. Deep-fried in lard that is. This will be my second posting in two days about my home town, but in Omaha Nebraska you can go to one of two WARRING establishments with a generations-long feud over who makes the BEST deep fried carp; Rudy Stefan's & Joe Tess (actually a family feud as they used to work in the same restaurant). Yes, it's boney, really boney and REALLY delicious. Forget utensils or you'll be mocked. The fish is 90% of the time completely non-muddy, non-fishy tasting. And 25% of the time it's downright sublime. Yes, carp. Deep fried. In lard.

              A double fish dinner at Joe Tess will set you back about $5.40, w/an extra fifty cents or quarter if you want two pieces of rib (as opposed to one piece of rib, and one piece of tail). You are served bread without butter with pickle chips. Jacket fries. Obligatory cole slaw (I ask for double jacket fries instead). And little else is on the menu.

              It's not coarse at all, in terms of its meat. It's white/gray and flaky. I've only had it deep-fried so I can't really speak to its general oiliness. If given the chance I'd say give it a whirl, a bit of an acqired experience though.

              4 Replies
              1. re: joypirate

                The word "coarse" in reference to carp isn't a comment on the food quality of the flesh. It's a traditional British angling term to separate carp, pike, roach, etc., from the more noble salmonid species (trout and salmon) preferred by anglers.

                (Carp are actually damn sporty fish on a flyrod, and not all that easy to catch, either)

                1. re: FlyFish
                  Eldon Kreider

                  When I was a kid, I caught a carp on a flyrod while fishing for bluegills and can attest to the sportiness, too.

                  One fact that needs to be considered with most freshwater fish that can live in warmish water is that the flavor and texture of the flesh can vary with water temperature and oxygen content. The same species can be quite different caught in May than in August from the same stream or pond. Warm water contributes to what is aptly called a muddy taste (something like what mud smells like). This is not a problem with trout because they generally can't survive in water warm enough to cause a problem.

                  1. re: Eldon Kreider

                    Yes, all true. Also, the muddy taste in freshwater fish, as well as a muddy sort of smell in public water supplies, can come from blooms of blue-green algae - all perfectly natural and harmless, but nonetheless objectionable.

                2. re: joypirate

                  OMG, Joe Tess. I used to live in Omaha and my family always went back to visit at least two or three times/year. My Uncle lived a few blocks from JT's and we used to always go there to get takeout. I've got some good memories about sharing a beer with him while waiting for our fish. Great stuff!

                3. Carp is a traditional Czech Christmas meal.

                  Link: http://www.igougo.com/planning/journa...

                  1. Carp is one of the most popular fish in Hungary, and living in the Land of Pork for a year, I tried carp hopefully many times without ever managing to like it.

                    Staying out in the countryside at a friend's farm, her uncles caught carp by hooking them out of the river, bashing them a few times to quiet them down (they are large and very unhappy), and then keeping them in a barrel and feeding them lettuce for a few days. Then, on to the slaughtering and the Main Event: soup, roast fillets, and lardy lardy deep frying. It was fresh as could be. It was authentic. And, may ingratitude burn through my tongue like a coal, given a choice in the matter I should never like to eat carp again.

                    If you would like to Kill! That! Taste!, you might try the southern Hungarian specialty of halaszle, a heavily paprika spiced carp soup, full of bone, skin, head, fin and all those toothsome stray bits left after filleting. Halaszle is hot and pungent but still less objectionable than carp in other forms. I guess you might call it the Bouillabaisse of Szeged, as it combines locally caught carp with the primo paprika grown thereabouts.

                    By the by, the Romanian word for carp is "crap" - as you can see by going to any grocery there, stacks and stacks of proudly labelled tinned carp.

                    1. When I was a kid growing up by the Columbia River, we would catch carp more often than not when we really wanted catfish. Common wisdom was that carp were useless and hopelessly bony, so we would give them to Mom to plant in her rose garden.

                      Euell Gibbons, author of "Stalking the Wild Asparagus", conducted an experiment to find the best way to deal with carp. His solution, using your fingers, scoop off nuggets of flesh from the bones, and then pan-fry them.

                      1. My uncle would visit my mom and dad after they were just married and inevitably wind up fishing downtown in the St Croix and bringing home a carp or two. They were quickly planted in the landlord's flower garden. Mom says the landlord's wife used to win prizes for her flowers. I also had a grandfather who would chop up bullheads to fertilize his tomato plants.

                        At any rate I've heard smoked carp is supposed to be good. I'd bet the carp is more beset by prejudice in America then anything else. After all, I've heard it was introduced by Europeans as a food fish.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: muD

                          One other note, the LA Times ran an article the other week on Japanese fisherman who some to the US to fish for bass. It seems that in Japan bass fisherman are the skateboarders of angling, harassed by the establishment which fish for....carp!

                        2. I never understand this debate. Carp is the most eaten fish in the world anyway. Chinese eat carp daily. I see carp over ice, carp in tanks, and carp steaks for sale at my local ethnic grocer.

                          I think that the carp is usually steamed "whole" in China. Reason is that head-to-tale cooking of fish is seen as prosperous or good fortune in China. It removes the need to debone, or anything. Just add ginger, scallions, and steam fish for 10-12 minutes. Then pour a mixture of oil and soy sauce in a hot pan over the fish as it sizzles. It's actually good for all river fishes.

                          For Japan? Places like Hokkaido (snow country) and Lake Akon are famous for carp in pristine waters. The water is so clear you can see trout, carp, and salmon swimming. Carp is served raw as "Koi-Arai" or carp sashimi. It's delicate and sushi chefs specialize in carp sashimi in the mountain regions.

                          Finally carp fins used to be used during the China Qing Dynasty or Japan's Meiji Era for Carp fin soup. It's the origins for the now famous shark-fin soup.

                          Again I've been to Hong Kong and seen this fish many times. Now I've noticed that my local ethnic markets carry both grass carp and common carp for $4.99/lbs in America.

                          The fallacy I guess is with rural Americans who haven't visited fish nations like China, Japan, Vietnam and definitely parts of Europe like Poland, Hungary, and Russia. It should also be noted that carp is huge in Canada with their Chinese population. So although people are afraid of the invasive carp in the rivers, over the border up north? They eat it daily.

                          Carp sashimi. Koi-Arai. The idea that this fish is ugly, not-edible, muddy, etc? Well try thinking that this fish is eaten raw in the island nation.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: asiancarpboy

                            Carp is one of less expensive fish at 99Ranch (Chinese chain). I've bought is a couple of times, but haven't been too happy with the bones.

                            1. re: paulj

                              A Chinese chef skilled in slicing carp (across the small fine bones so that they are edible) can produce a fine veggie carp stir-fry, but I haven't come across one in a very long time. This was one of the fav dishes of my childhood -- delicate & sweet as fresh fish can be.

                          2. As noted by another poster here in the Czech Republic it is the traditional Christmas dinner of millions of Czechs. Leading up to Christmas day the streets, squares, markets and home improvement stores are filled with people selling live carp from big kiddie splash pools. You have a choice to take yours live or buy fillets by the kilo.

                            Most, but not all, of the guys I work with talk about the horror of Mom's Christmas carp and how they've been choking it down at Christmas dinner for years. It's all about the tradition and no one is going to change it at this point. In the town I live in, back in the Communist days, Christmas Eve used to be the night the men folk would go to the central square to buy carp for the big dinner. In fact it was an excuse to get drunk with their friends and earned the term "liquid carp".

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: vanderb

                              Carp is also the big Christmas Eve dish in Poland and parts of Germany and Austria. Personally, I like it quite a bit. It depends how it is made. "Karp po zydowsku" (a Polish dish--"Jewish style carp) is carp in a sweet and sour carrot and raisin sauce. Very good! Another good one is carp in aspic, yum!