Asian carp: Americans' poison, Chinese people's delicacy

Updated: 2014-10-13 07:46

By Dong Fangyu(China Daily USA)

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In the Unites States, you can now enjoy a high-quality, palatable invasive fish without remorse because you are helping save the environment.

Several states in the Midwest are encouraging people to eat Asian Carp to protect the ecosystems of rivers and lakes. "Asian carp have been found in the Illinois River, which connects the Mississippi River to Lake Michigan. Due to their large size and rapid rate of reproduction, these fish could pose a significant risk to the Great Lakes ecosystem," the US Environmental Protection Agency says on its website.

A team of US fishery experts visited Shanghai in September to learn more about the Asian carp market. They toured carp processing plants in Wuhan, Hubei province, and tasted local dishes, such as carp braised in brown sauce, and bread soaked in fish head soup.

Eight species native to Asia including bighead, black, grass and silver are categorized by the US as Asian carp. They were originally introduced to US water systems in the 1970s to control the spread of weeds and parasites. But their numbers grew quickly as they crowded out native fish populations, damaging local ecosystems.

According to the Beijing News, the US team hopes to enhance cooperation with China in controlling the Asian carp population in the US and rehabilitating these carp in China, where they are valued as a source of food.

Asian carp expert Jim Garvey, who led the US team, told the Beijing Times that these invasive carp have flooded into the Mississippi River and its tributaries. If their numbers are not controlled, Garvey said, the fish will soon spread to the Great Lakes, where tourism and fishing are major industries.

To many Chinese, carp are merely a source of food, not an invasive pest. Chinese people have eaten the tasty fish, which are a rich source of nutrition, since ancient times. Serving a carp whole is a symbol of prosperity in Chinese culture, and at a banquet it is customary to serve the whole fish last.

But in the US, most people prefer to eat chicken, port or beef, Garvey said, despite the nutritional benefits of fish. Also, Americans generally don't cook the entire fish and instead fillet fish such as salmon or tuna. Filleting an Asian carp is challenging because the fish have a complex structure of thick bones.

In 2011, the Illinois state government began promoting Asian carp as a healthy and cheap source of protein. The fish are also low in fat and have lower mercury levels than tuna.

A video called Flying Fish, Great Dish, which has become popular on YouTube, teaches people how to clean Asian carp and debone the filets.

"Bighead carp soup (especially the head part) is considered a delicacy in Asian countries. Cook them with tofu and green onion. Really delicious. Another wonderful easy way to cook bighead carp is to season the fillet with soybean sauce. Keep them in the refrigerator overnight, and then deep fry," one commenter said.

"The problem with Asian carp is the name 'carp'. People automatically assume it's the bottom-feeder kind of carp that tastes terrible. Asian carp is not like that, and is actually pretty palatable. If people realized this, the Asian carp problem would have been solved quite easily," another commenter said on YouTube.

Nathan Brown, executive chef of The Ritz-Carlton Beijing Financial Street said, "I've been working and traveling around Asia for many years. Actually, I don't mind carp in Chinese dishes. Thinly sliced with noodles or made into little carp dumplings (or meatballs) in Hong Kong style with broth is very tasty at breakfast."

Brown, of Canada, said: "Most of the reason we don't eat a lot of carp in North America is due to the vast options we have for fish and seafood in the Great Lakes and east and west coast."

"However, there are several cooking methods to make the Asian carp enjoyable," he says

 Asian carp: Americans' poison, Chinese people's delicacy

Clockwise from top: Stewed carp with chili sauce; milky carp soup; stewed carp with bean curd; grilled carp with bean curd. Provided to China Daily

 Asian carp: Americans' poison, Chinese people's delicacy

Workers with the Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee, which is made up of the Illinois department of Natural Resources, the US Army Corps of Engineers and several other organizations, capture dead and dying fish on the Little Calumet River after a poison was used to kill all of the fish in an approximately two-mile stretch of the river May 20, 2010 in Chicago. Provided to China Daily

Asian carp: Americans' poison, Chinese people's delicacy

(China Daily USA 10/13/2014 page10)