Like to fish? If the answer is yes, you have likely reeled in a large carp before.
It’s a shame to throw back one of these fish, not only because they can be injured by the process but also because you’re missing out on a unique culinary experience.
If you’ve ever asked yourself or another angler, “can you eat carp fish?” then this article is for you.
The short answer to this question is yes – you can eat carp!
Despite what some people say, it is entirely possible to make a meal of this delicious white fish.
This fish has been vilified in the United States as not being very good to eat.
In fact, some anglers jest that the best way to eat carp is to nail it to a wooden board, season it with salt and pepper, let the carp dry in the sun for a week – and then remove the carp and eat the board instead.
It’s a funny joke, but the rumor that carp is a trash fish and not good to eat is far from the case.
It’s actually quite delicious and the amount of nutrition and health benefits your can get from carp are great.
Here’s what you need to know.
Are Carp Good to Eat?
A large freshwater fish native to Asia, carp has long been thought of as an invasive “junk” species.
They are big-lipped, large-muscled members of the minnow family, brought to Europe in 1227 and American in 1872.
Prolific breeders, carp can live in a variety of ecosystems, which is why they have become so common in the United States. They are seen as having very little food or even sporting value.
However, in other areas of the world, that’s far from the truth. In Asia, the carp is a primary source of food, while in Europe, carp are considered a highly sought-after sport fish.
There are plenty of delicious ways to cook carp – it’s just a matter of knowing what you are doing.
While you may be turning up your nose as you read this, thinking, “I’ll just stick to my salmon, haddock, thanks,” don’t be so quick to judge!
There are plenty of ways you can prepare carp to make them good to eat.
Please keep in mind that there are different guidelines for how much fish to eat for the following:
1) Women 18-49 years and children 1-17 years
2) Women 50 years and older and men 18 years and older
Carp is the number one species for aquaculture, commonly produced in China as well as other locations. China accounts for up to 70% of commercially produced carp!
Beloved in many parts of the world, it can be eaten when caught from the wild or when raised on a farm. In Central Europe, it forms the basis of a traditional Christmas Eve dinner.
Some of the most popular classic carp recipes?
In Hungary, the Fisherman’s soup contains carp along with other freshwater fish. It’s commonly eaten on Christmas Eve.
In the Czech Republic, fried carp meat is common fare on this holiday. They also eat thick soups made of offal and the head of the carp.
And if that sounds a little bit too exotic for you, don’t forget that gefilte fish, a common dish in Jewish cuisine, exists, too.
In many countries, carp is a delicacy – so why are we so standoffish about it in the United States?
Where to Find Carp
No matter where you go or where you choose to fish in the United States, you are likely going to find a population of carp – at least in the eastern portions of the country.
There are several species of carp, with each having its own preferences regarding habitat.
Most, however, are found in reservoirs where they were originally introduced to control vegetation.
They can also be found in backwaters of major rivers, like the Missouri, Ohio, and Mississippi rivers.
You can even catch carp in the Great Lakes!
Moving westward, you’ll find fewer carp. However, there are some rivers in the Southwest, like the Rio Grande and Colorado, that have breeding populations of carp.
Carp populations are out of control in many places. In some states like Louisiana, rivers are so overrun with carp that they are the only species you can find!
Interestingly, though, some localities have regulations that limit what species of carp you can fish for. These regulations are rare, but worth paying attention to.
You can usually find carp in a river but knowing where to look in the river is your next challenge.
These fish tend to hang out in both shallow waters and deeper pools, with a great deal of variation between individual carp species.
Still not sure where to find carp – or how to catch them? Check out this video below, which will give you information on both catching and cooking carp.
What Does Carp Taste Like?
Now, the moment you’ve been waiting for – what does carp actually taste like?
Talk to most anglers in the United States, and you’ll get a mixed response. Most claim that carp have a “muddy” taste despite never having tried them.
While it’s true that you may experience a muddy flavor with more sedated species of bottom-dwelling fish, it’s not true that the taste is bad or overpowering in any way.
Instead, carp are oily fish that have a unique flavor. In fact, this fish has been referred to as the “Queen of the Rivers,” and has a taste that is not unlike that of salmon.
The high content of oil in the muscle of the fish makes for a moist, flaky consistency and a superb flavor.
When you catch, store, and prepare carp correctly, you shouldn’t have any fishy or muddy taste at all.
The secret? When you first reel in that carp, put it on ice immediately. This will reduce blood flow to the rib meat and keep the good flavors intact.
When you prepare your carp, you also need to remove the bloodline. This can introduce a muddy flavor, as can catching a carp from a muddy or dirty body of water.
Watch out for pollution in particular – carp eat mostly vegetation, so a body of water that is heavily polluted is much more likely to produce carp with off-flavors.
How to Prepare Carp
Carp wouldn’t have been introduced all over the world if they weren’t delicious to eat!
Therefore, it’s important to know how to prepare carp so that you can benefit from the universally beloved flavors that somehow only Americans have ignored.
Before you can cook your carp, you need to get it ready, start by cleaning the layer of slime off your fish.
Some people then choose to descale their carp, but this is a frustrating process – as an alternative, just skin it.
The skin and scales of a carp are both quite tough. You will need to press your knifepoint underneath the scales at the top of the trial. Follow the backbone from tail to skull to loosen up the skin.
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Make a small incision along the stomach, fully loosening the rest of the skin. Use a pair of pliers as you start up at the spine.
Use a knife to remove any meat that is hanging on to the skin. This can be time-consuming, but the end product will be well worth the effort.
After removing the skin, you can make your fillets. Start at the backbone, working to the belly by running your knife along the fish’s ribs.
As with other fish, you can separate it at the tail and at the head. It’s easy to feel the ribs of a carp as they are quite dense.
Get as much of the back meat out of the carp and into your fillet as you can. This is the best part of the fish to eat.
The first few times you prepare carp, you might not do a great job. It can be a bit tricky to learn! However, with some practice, you will improve the flavor and appearance of your fillets.
After you have filleted your carp, take a close look – you might be able to notice the bloodline. This should be removed before cooking.
If you’re having trouble locating the bloodline, look for the Y bones. If you’ve ever filleted salmon or trout, the appearance is almost exactly the same. The bloodline will be above the bones.
You can remove the bones if you want, but it can reduce the yield you get from your meat. If you hate the idea of bones in your fillet, go ahead and remove them – otherwise, don’t worry about it.
After the fillets have been prepared, go ahead and soak them in saltwater or put them back on the ice. Cook them as soon after filleting as possible for the best, least “fishy” flavor.
Another quick tip is to score your fillets about three-quarters of the way through the meat. This will allow heat and cooking oil to get inside, helping to break up some of the lingering floating bones.
How to Cook Carp
There are hundreds of ways you can cook carp! It can be served pan-fried, grilled, or even deep-fried. It has a dense, durable flesh that holds up well to the grill as well as the deep fryer.
Pan-frying is one of the easiest and most common ways of preparing carp. To do this, many people choose to bread it first.
Since it is naturally so oily, you can bread lightly without needing to incorporate a complex, greasy recipe.
If you choose to pan-fry, make sure you do so in a pan that is deep and has a good amount of oil, butter, or lard.
Choose something that holds a good, consistent temperature and allows your food to brown up well.
You can even bake carp if you’re looking for a more healthy option. Just ensure you have good control of the heat since carp can become overcooked quickly.
This is something you want to avoid. Carp should be cooked all the way through, yet still moist. Another option is to cook it on a chiminea.
In most cases, you don’t need to use a ton of seasonings on your carp. Usually, a little bit of salt and pepper is all it takes.
You can experiment, though, if you like – consider giving things like cayenne pepper or garlic a try!
Some people even choose to pickle carp. This is usually done in a mixture of vinegar and various herbs, like rosemary.
What to Keep in Mind When Eating Carp?
Although carp are definitely good to eat, there are several things you will want to keep in mind before doing so.
For starters, remember that the taste of the carp – as with many species of fish – depends on what they have been eating.
Eat carp out of a muddy river bottom, and it’s going to taste like mud. Eat carp that’s been eating clean vegetation, and it’s going to be mild and sweet.
Also, remember that the bones of carp can be incredibly frustrating to deal with.
The rib bones fork into several prongs and trying to fillet them can be frustrating. Sure, you can eat around them – but that’s a lot of work!
An easier way to deal with this is to use your fingers to tear off chunks while you are preparing the fish.
You can fry the pieces after dipping them in batter. They might look a little odd, but they will be much easier (and tastier) to eat.
Can You Eat Carp? Yes!
If you enjoy eating bland white fish like walleye or even more flavorful fish like salmon, don’t worry – carp is delicious, too.
Although there are prevailing rumors that carp are not good for eating – and that they taste like the waters from whence they came – what most people overlook is that the fact is true of all fish and not just carp.
Eat a carp from a polluted portion of the Mississippi River, and it’s going to taste awful. Eat a walleye from the same region, and the same will likely be true.
Despite their bad press, carp can be quite good to eat. They are versatile and since they can be found just about everywhere, you don’t have to worry about knowing a lot about fishing in order to catch one.
Long story short?
Don’t believe the hype. If you’re looking for a unique new fish to try at the dinner table, give carp a chance – it will be well worth your time!