Peoria, Ill. — It’s not that Asian carp is bad to eat. A recent tasting at the Two25 restaurant in the Mark Twain Hotel in Downtown Peoria, Ill., showed that again.
Three different Asian carp dishes were provided. The carp was fried, smoked, and stuffed in pinwheels. Clint Carter of Carter’s Fish Market, a seafood restaurant in Springfield, Ill., was on hand to prepare the fish, something he’s done in the past.
The consensus? It’s good.
The fish is mild – not fishy and able to blend well with other flavors, making it an ideal candidate for imitation crab and some of other concoctions we find in the supermarket, said Phil Caplis of Two25.
But Caplis, a restaurant man, doesn’t see the carp crashing the American dinner table.
“Food might be a byproduct but I think pharmaceuticals and other uses of the fish will be the real value,” he said.
Plus U.S. consumers are lazy. The one drawback to the carp is that it’s bony. We don’t like dealing with fish bones or grape seeds or any of that in our food.
Carp filets are fine but make up only 10 percent of the fish, said Carter.
The other 90 percent needs to be put to use in order to get the great Asian carp processing machine moving, whether it’s sending whole fish to China (where carp heads are prized), fertilizer, pet food, or pharmaceuticals.
Leigh Ann Brown, economic development coordinator for Pekin, noted that there are still plenty of active prospects out there looking to take advantage of the abundance of carp in Illinois River waters.
She also announced that an Asian carp conference will be held in Peoria on July 10, just ahead of the second annual Flying Fish Festival where bow hunters descend on the river for prize money.
The conference will include keynote speakers and talk about partnerships and marketing opportunities, said Brown.
Meanwhile, Kevin Irons, aquaculture program manager for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, pointed to flyers advocating that fishermen take care not to transport the invasive species into other waters – such as the Great Lakes, a territory that folks are terrified the carp will claim next.
“They got here from China but they need help,” said Irons, suggesting that the carp still make up around 60 percent of the aquatic life in the Illinois River. “We’re fishing out 6 million pounds of carp a year now. If we could fish out 30 to 40 million pounds a year, the population might come down to about 20 percent.”
The carp definitely represents a threat but there’s hope, said Irons.
“We’ve still got 90 species of fish out there. We haven’t lost any yet,” he said.
But back to the tasting at Two25: folks were digging in.
Don’t believe it when someone says you can’t eat that which might jump in your boat some day.
As Sally Hanley of the Greater Peoria Economic Development Council said, sitting at a table where people were happily munching away on carp delights: “We’re hooked.”