4/6/2008
Eating a carp for the first time

For a long time now I've been wanting to see what carp taste like.   I'd heard that carp tasted very good, horrible and somewhere in between.   Heresay doesn't do much for me.   I like to make up my own mind on things.   Freshwater drum caught out of clean water taste good to excellent - they are right up there with bass and close to walleye.   Most Oneida Lake fishermen would kick themselves in the head if they realized how good drum were.   Suckers to me are OK.  I'd eat them if I had to.   To me they aren't compelling food.   Carp are utilized as a food fish throughout the world.  In the Czech Republic fried carp is the traditional Christmas dish.    The main reason we have carp throughout the United States is because early immigrants demanded them!   For FOOD!

I was out lake trout fishing yesterday (4/5) with my girlfriend Jessica.   She caught some nice fish and we were near the northern portions of Cayuga Lake.  I decided we'd spend around 1/2 the day checking on the carp up there.   We were pleasantly surprised to find good numbers of large carp working areas around the marshes.   I foul-hooked a fair amount of fish, but had a 5 or 6lb carp hammer my clouser fly.   We had a lake trout in the livewell and I decided to keep the carp.  I was "on the fence" but she thought it'd be a cool idea to kill it and eat it "for science"  ;-)

I'd kept a carp or two before but chickened out on eating them - I'd release them at the boat ramp, and I almost did it again but she made sure we went through with our "experiment".  

The first thing I had to come to terms with, is that carp aren't the easiest fish to kill.   Most of my clients have seen me kill trout, perch or salmon.  I just pry their heads up and break their "neck".  This kills them instantaneously and they bleed right out.   This is virtually impossible to do with a carp.   So I took a sharp knife and sliced right under its gills.   I was then able to do my "pry bit" and kill the fish.  

Filleting a carp is a tedious task.   I'm sure there are better ways to clean them, but trying to cut through their tough scales is very difficult.   They are also very bony with thick, strong bones.   They also have plenty of "floating" bones - moreso than a northern pike.   On top of this, the carp also have a very wide and somewhat deep lateral line.   I was shocked that by the time I'd removed all the undesirable parts of the fish (maybe the entire fish for most people ;-) I had very little left over to eat.   The carp was a female and her eggs were a brownish olive color.  Not appetizing at all.   Trout, salmon and perch all have bright orange eggs.   The carp eggs resemble something rotting inside them.   But I got over it.

After a bit of work I wound up with a bunch of small pieces of fish.  The meat didn't look bad at all - it had a slight redness to it, that gave it some appeal.   I decided not to doctor up the fish much at all.  I added some salt and pepper and heated up the oil.

I was filled with anticipation.  I couldn't wait to finally see once and for all what these fish tasted like!    The carp pieces cooked up quickly and I put them onto a plate lined with paper towel.   So what did it taste like?   All I could say was that it "wasn't bad".   I wouldn't call it great, but it was fair to good.   The fish had a sweet finish (after-taste).   Yet I wasn't very gung-ho about eating a bunch of it.   Maybe I just couldn't get over the fact that it was carp.   But I kept eating pieces of it and saying to myself - this isn't bad at all.   Jessica tried a little piece.   She's not a big fish eater but thought it was "OK - better than I thought it'd be.  Not bad."   

I really didn't enjoy the process of killing and cleaning the carp.   That to me is the tedious part.   If someone else wanted to cook the fish for me - and they knew how - perhaps they had a good recipe, I would have no problems eating it.   I think we are spoiled in this country with an abundance of easily caught, good tasting and EASY TO PREPARE fish.   If all we had were carp here, I could get used to killing, filleting and eating them.  But it's hard to want to eat carp with all the yellow perch, bass, trout, walleye, bullhead etc... around here.   I'd love to see more people fish for and eat carp - we have too many around, but I don't see it happening anytime soon.   But it isn't bad - it's actually alright, and I'll probably try it again with a bigger fish - 10lber or better out of a clean lake like Skaneateles.   Cayuga is a clean lake, but this fish was mudding around a soft bottomed area.