Columbia, Mo. — On a mucky riverbank, perhaps a hungry fisherman found a genie’s lamp. He wished that fish would fill the rivers until the animals leapt from the water. Soon, non-native Asian carp species swarmed into the Faustian fisherman’s nets. One species, the silver carp, even jumped into his boat. However, few customers wanted to buy these un-holy mackerel. What’s worse, Asian carp competed with native fish and disrupted ecosystems.

The Asian carp genie won’t return to its bottle, or to the fish farms in the southern U.S. from which the carp escaped in the 1970s. However, our Eat Mo Carp project works its own Rumpelstiltskin magic to spin the straw of the carp invasion into healthy protein gold for hungry people. The Eat Mo Carp team, based at the University of Missouri, endeavors to expand culinary use of Asian carp, while studying the associated behaviors of consumers and business-owners through the lens of social science theories.

In 2013, we conducted a blind taste test in which carp beat catfish. Fortified by that finding, we reached out to locally-owned grocery stores, restaurants and other food purveyors in Columbia, Missouri. A regional grocery store chain, Moser’s Discount Foods, now sells minced carp meat, fish heads and fillets in one of its locations. Several restaurants ran trial offerings of carp cuisine. For example, La Siesta Mexican restaurant gave patrons free samples of carp chorizo, while China Garden offered a carp pot sticker special. The executive chef of MU’s Campus Dining Services, Eric Cartwright, served pasta putanesca con carpe, carp chowder and other dishes to students.

The feast continues. Last month, one restaurant, Broadway Brewery, put the carp in carpe diem by introducing carp dishes to its seasonal menu during the Concert Against Rogue Piscines (CARP) on June 6. I originated the idea of this benefit concert as an innovative way to fund Eat Mo Carp’s mission without being limited to increasingly scarce conventional research and conservation funding. The concert raised nearly $2,000 for our project. Local musicians, Pippa Letsky, Noah Earle and Ian Vardell played for approximately 75 attendees who perused a buffet of carp dishes crafted by executive chef Eric Seidler. An avid angler, Seidler saw leaping silver carp in the wild, but hadn’t cooked the fish before experimenting in Broadway Brewery’s kitchen.

Chef Eric Seidler mixes spices into minced silver carp meat in the kitchen of Broadway Brewery on April 16, 2015. (Photo: Tim Wall)

“It’s mesmerized me how mild the fish is, how well it takes on other flavors, and how easy it is to manipulate into other things,” said Seidler. “It’s just a really easy fish to cook with, especially the ground stuff.”

For chefs, the major drawback of Asian carp is the boniness of the fillets, noted Seidler. So, he used minced carp from Schafer’s Fisheries in Illinois, and hasn’t found a single bone fragment in the approximately 30 pounds of carp with which he’s made dishes. By pressing the fish fillets through a heavy-duty screen, then grinding it, processing facilities remove needle-thin bones and other problematic pieces of the carp. Seidler compared ground carp meat to ground turkey. The meat has little fat, so he used binders like egg and bread crumbs to help form the meat into patties and balls.

“You don’t have to be a professional chef to use this product,” said Seidler. “Just substitute carp for turkey in anything.”

The substitutability of carp could address a chief criticism of commercializing carp. Some worry that if a market develops for Asian carp, then people won’t want to wipe them out. Unscrupulous folks might even spread the animals intentionally. However, other meats could be swapped for carp, if the invaders were ever eradicated. Perhaps if native fish, such as the freshwater drum, filled in for carp, commercial fishermen would still have a revenue stream. Chefs could even use another invasive species, such as blue catfish from the Chesapeake Bay or lionfish from the Caribbean, to make any of the recipes Seilder and others have developed for Asian carp.

Speaking of recipes, Seidler shared his secret for making carp spring rolls, which he served at the concert. Two other favorite recipes of Seidler’s are a fish taco with Baja sauce, spicy mayo and lime condiment, and an Italian wedding soup with meatballs made from ground carp. His recipes are below. Bon appe-carp!

Asian carp spring rolls. (Photo: Tim Wall)

Carp Spring Rolls

2 lb. Asian carp, minced
1 egg, large
½ head green cabbage
¼ head red cabbage
5 carrots
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon pepper
1 cup soy sauce
3 tablespoon ground ginger
¼ cup sesame oil
3 packages, spring roll shells
1 tablespoon water

  1. Add all ingredients together except for ground carp, water and egg. Mix well.  Let marinade for 30 minutes, then drain off excess liquid.
  2. Mix ground carp into other ingredients.  In separate bowl, beat egg with water to make egg wash.  Heat 1/2 gal of fryer oil to 325 degrees F in a stock pot.
  3. Place 2 tbsp. of carp mixture on spring roll shell. Wrap tightly to form roll. Apply a small amount of egg wash to corner of spring roll shell to seal edge.
  4. Place spring rolls in fryer and cook until golden brown.
Asian carp taco with Baja sauce. (Photo: Yun Ho)

Baja Carp Taco

2 pounds ground silver carp
1 tablespoon lime zest
2 teaspoons cumin
3 teaspoons oregano
¼ cup taco seasoning
2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
¼ cup red bell pepper
¼ cup diced yellow onion
1 diced red onion
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon Baja sauce
16 corn tortilla

  1. Heat olive oil in a heavy sauté pan. Cook yellow onions and red bell peppers in the pan until soft.
  2. Add ground carp.  Cook until the meat is done and crumbles like ground beef.
  3. Add all the other ingredients, except cilantro, red onion, corn tortillas and Baja sauce.
  4. Heat tortillas on a warm griddle until soft, then remove them from the heat.
  5. Fill each tortilla with 2 ounce portions of meat. Top with 1 tablespoon of red onions 1 teaspoon of cilantro.
  6. Drizzle Baja sauce over tacos. Garnish with jalapeños and lime wedge.
Italian wedding soup with Asian carp meatballs. (Photo: Yun Ho)

Asian Carp Meatballs

3 pounds ground Asian Carp
2 tablespoons fresh, chopped oregano
2 tablespoons fresh, chopped Italian parsley
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon pepper
1 cup panko bread crumbs
½ cup diced yellow onion
½ cup diced red bell pepper
1 tablespoon minced garlic
3 teaspoons soy sauce

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Add all the ingredients together in a bowl and mix well.
  3. Form the mixture into 1.5 ounce balls.
  4. Sauté in olive oil until browned.
  5. Finish cooking the meatballs in the preheated oven for 15 to 20 minutes.