Catching and cooking a carp – part II

 

In the first part of this crazy carp adventure, I looked at where to catch an ‘eating carp’ around Canberra.  The word on various fishing forums and social media was that they taste better with less of a muddy taste from flowing rivers  than from lakes.  If I was going to embark on this mission, I wanted to make sure the fish had every chance of rewarding the family and I with a reasonable meal – and much to my surprise it did.

Catching a carp

On a sunny winter afternoon, I loaded up a few rods, a net and an esky and took off for the Murrumbidgee river.  Here at flickandflyjournal, we do 99% of our fishing with lures and flies.  But this is the 1% where I have to admit, I ‘cheated’.  I made the decision to fish with bait.  Yes you CAN catch carp on soft plastics and fly – but both techniques are more productive if you can sight cast to cruising or feeding fish.  Check out any number of Hamish and Lee’s carp-on-fly sessions here, here and here for examples.  But on this day the water was a coffee brown, so I resorted to a tin of sweet corn.   I threw a handful of burley out every 15 minutes or so, tied up three simple running sinker rigs with about 1.5 metres of leader above a tiny weight and a swivel.  The hooks were small, about size 6 and each had two or three corn kernals on the shank and bend, leaving the hook point exposed.  I cast them out into the burley and set the rods into their holders.  I find carp very cautious feeders most of the time, tasting a bait and then spitting it out again in an instant.  So I  like to leave a couple of metres worth of slack line so the fish can suck up the bait, swallow it and then start to swim off before feeling any resistance from the line.  After a handful of tentative bites and small runs, one of the lines starting to run off into the middle of river – I held the rod high and let it load up – I was on!

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I held the rod while frantically winding in the other two to get them out of the way.  Another fisherman nearby saw the commotion and came over to give me a hand – he makes a brief cameo in the timelapse video.  After a couple of minutes, I grabbed the landing net and the fish slid in.

Preparing the carp

Much to the amazement of the onlookers, I took the carp out of the landing net, removed the hook and plunged it straight into an esky filled with ice bricks and freshwater.  I didn’t care, I had my fish and I was pumped. Man I love fishing – even bait fishing.  I closed the lid, loaded the esky into the car and sped off.  The fish thrashed once, then went completely still.  The theory goes that as the fish slowly goes to ‘sleep’ in the ice, the blood is withdrawn from the extremities, much like frostbite, improving the flavour.  Having never done this before,  who was I to argue?

When I got home, I put the fish on the outside table, grabbed my filleting knife and was just about to start filleting when I noticed the fish was still alive.  Seriously!? It had been in the ice for close to an hour, it was freezing cold and my hands were numb just from taking it out of the esky.  Carp really are one of the hardiest creatures on the planet and I respect that.  I consulted the ikijme app on my smart phone while grabbing a sharp screwdriver and a nearby hammer.  I held the screwdriver on the magic spot and gave it a firm tap with the hammer.  The fish was now dead.

Ikijime
Ikijime is a very quick and humane way to kill a fish – even a fish as tough as a carp. Image from www.ikijime.com

To fillet the fish, I approached it as I would any round fish like a salmon, whiting or trout.  I started behind the head and let the spine guide the knife down towards the tail.  Once I cleared the ribs, I pushed the knife right down to the belly and then continued back to the tail.  Lifting the fillet up from the shoulder with one hand, I followed the ribs down towards the belly with the knife in my other hand.  I tried to pay extra attention to the flesh around the belly – I had read this is the best bit.  This is a great video here if you need any tips.

Once I got the fillet off the fish, it was obvious that there was a distinct colour difference.  The belly flap is much lighter in colour and so too is the strip across the shoulders.  I trimmed these bits from the fillet.  These have no bones and obviously less blood in the flesh.  Supposedly, they are the bits you can eat.

IMG_8200 sliced carp
The belly flap and a strip across the shoulders are bone-free and much lighter in colour

I didn’t want to hide the flesh in a curry or strongly flavoured soup, so I simply rolled the shoulder and belly pieces in a little salt, pepper and flour.  After coming this far, I was really curious what the ‘bad’ bits might taste like as well, so I cut some strips off the red meat and gave them the same treatment.

Carp rolled in flour and salt pepper
Nowhere to hide – salt, pepper and flour

I put a little olive oil and a small knob of butter in a heavy pan and after a moment, dropped the carp strips in with a sizzle.  After a couple of minutes on each side they were golden brown and I popped them on some kitcken towel to drain.  I added the red meat strips and gave them the same treatment.

Fried carp fillets
Golden brown fried carp

We had some potatoes and a few veggies to serve with the carp and there was a packet of steak in the fridge should it all go horribly wrong.  I’m happy to report that the steak wasn’t required.  My cousin, who is a kiwi and not as disgusted by the thought of eating carp as most Aussies, causally said “mmm this is quite nice”. My father said “What’s the big deal about eating carp? There’s nothing wrong with it”

And from my point of view, having researched, planned, caught, prepared and cooked the fish … It was actually pretty good. It was certainly very fresh, much fresher than other fish I’ve had from clubs and pubs up and down the coast at times.  It had a very mild taste and the crunchy, slightly salty flour coating made it quite moreish.  There was no hint of a muddy flavour at all.  If anything it needs a curry sauce or a strongly flavoured soup, not to hide the taste of the fish, but to give it some.

Oh and the red meat, the bit that is supposedly not fit for human consumption. Well it tasted exactly the same as the white meat but it had row after row of little Y-shaped bones.  We decided to save the rest of this for the cat.  The head and the frame went into the veggie patch for this summer’s corn crop – waste not want not.

So there you have it. The most despised, supposedly disgusting ‘trash’ fish in our freshwater lakes and rivers and  it tasted completely fine.  Even quite nice.  I didn’t have to soak it in a bath tub for a week, or bath the flesh in milk, or hide the fish in a thick curry.  Just get the fish on ice, trim up the fillet and fry it.

Of course, nothing here is restricted to Canberra and its surrounds, that just happens to be where I live.  You too can do your bit by taking a few carp out of your local river and cooking them up. I dare ya to give it go!

Graham Fifield

flickandflyjournal.com

Hamish Webb, Dan Firth, Graham Fifield and Lee Georgeson have been fishing the south-east Australian region since 1987. Since then they’ve become avid sportfishermen who are constantly looking for new ways to challenge themselves. They are all scientists and conservationists who are passionate about the long-term sustainability of the ecosystem in which they live. They promote understanding and appreciation of the complex socio-political, economic and environmental issues surrounding fish, fishing and fisheries, while never losing sight of the various motivations that keep them coming back. In English, that means they love all things fishing and have a damn good time on the water, and that’s all that really counts in the end!

11 thoughts on “Catching and cooking a carp – part II

  • Pingback: A quest to catch and cook a Canberra carp | Flick and Fly Journal

  • July 20, 2014 at 8:39 am
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    I married into a Croatian family and was served carp cooked in much the same fashion very early on, quite enjoyed it. Their theory is that the dirty water is the key to good tasting carp. Dirty and slower water has more living organisms that are easier for them to catch and eat, faster and clearer water has them needing to forage in the bottom more – hence a muddier taste. That’s their theory anyway!

    Reply
  • July 24, 2014 at 11:04 pm
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    Hey anon, that’s a fascinating insight. Hamish and I did some research after writing this and found a whole bunch of articles on why fish taste better or worse (depending on your opinion) from still and flowing water. There is a draft in the works, so watch this space for the article coming soon 🙂 Thanks, Graz

    Reply
  • July 25, 2014 at 10:51 am
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    Good report guys. A couple of billion Asians and and Europeans can’t be wrong I suppose but I wasn’t going to be the first to try it! I’ve been imprinted for forty years that thay are bony and taste horrible so your report is a nice change and maybe I’ll have a go. I think i will try out of a clear stream first though.
    Well done for suggesting a new opportunity.

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  • July 29, 2014 at 8:06 pm
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    Thanks Freddy. I can’t argue with the bones, there are plenty of them, but trimming off the bone-free parts of the fillet is a winner. It seems like a waste until you appreciate that these fish are completely out of control and finding ANY use for them is better than throwing them on the bank to stink!

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  • Pingback: Why do some freshwater fish taste muddy? | Flick and Fly Journal

  • January 19, 2015 at 9:50 pm
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    if you reckon carp is Ok to eat all I can say is that you musn’t catch many other species and your taste buds must be in your bum……….sorry

    Reply
    • January 20, 2015 at 9:29 am
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      Haha. Thanks for the comment. I take it you’ve had a few bad experiences in the past then riverrat!

      You are right that carp can be pretty much inedible. This is mainly due to the compound geosmin which gives freshwater fish the dreaded muddy taste. From waterways with high amounts of this compound, carp are horrible eating. However, from clean waterways, they can be OK, as Graz found out… Shortly after he wrote that, he was in Vietnam and experienced the other side of the coin- carp that despite being drowned in curry, was still very close to being inedible. Anyway, if you want to know more about geosmin and why fish taste muddy we’ve written about it http://flickandflyjournal.com/2014/07/28/why-do-some-freshwater-fish-taste-muddy/

      Cheers
      Hamish

      Reply
  • August 8, 2015 at 6:42 am
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    Carp are a pestilence in the US but fishermen don’t put effort into controlling them. Carp are fun to catch, make excellent catfish bait, and are good eatin. To those who say carp is muddy, submerge it in milk overnight. Even the throwaway pieces lose that horrible taste.

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  • May 9, 2016 at 11:08 am
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    The way carp is treated reminds me of Kahawai in NZ where ive just moved from and grew up. Its abundant on almost all stretches of coastline, revered as a great fish to have a battle with but unless you smoke the hell out of it most people wont touch it, how we get past that is by bleeding it as soon as we catch them, would this work with carp I keep asking myself. P.S. Kahawai is what you call Australian Salmon though in NZ it isnt near endangerment its absolutely everywhere.

    Reply
    • May 9, 2016 at 11:40 am
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      I grew up catching Aussie salmon (Kahawai) with my dad on the south coast of NSW. As you say, bleeding them immediately and putting them on ice makes them more than palatable… Like a lot of thing Aus/NZ, we are pretty spoilt… Lots of fish that we deem “inedible” are definitely edible. Bonito are a great example, bled and iced, they make for great sashimi of rare/medium rare steaks… I’m sure bleeding carp would improve them. Bleeding most fish helps improve the eating qualities, even bread and butter species like Snapper and bream 🙂 so definitely worth giving it a shot.

      Cheers
      Hamish

      Reply

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