If You Can’t Beat’em: Eat’em!

Grass carp
Grass Carp Image via Wikipedia

“Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day” suggested Mark Twain.

I don’t know anybody who has tested that premise, but it rings true to me. Maybe the closest we can come to finding out for sure would be to ask someone sitting at a Chinese dinner table.

Cane toads were the answer 75 years ago to control insect pests for Australia’s sugar cane growers. The non-native toads were imported in large numbers (they now number 1.5 billion!), and lacking natural predators, in the sadly well-known pattern of solutions becoming residual problems, they’ve experienced a population explosion and become a national pest, advancing more than 1200 miles across the parched continent.

Which is wonderful news to four populations of humans: those who collect cane toads from the bush for a bounty; those who turn them into a goo for use as a soil fertilizer; those who export thousands of drums of pickled cane toads to Asia; and to the family sitting at that table with their napkins tucked into their shirts, chopsticks poised over a steaming platter of toad meat. (Remove poison glands first and don’t let your dog eat them!)

The poison is such that, with repeated non-lethal contact, old Rover can not only become immune to the toxin but addicted to it. There are accounts of dogs obsessive seeking out toads to lick, perhaps early in the morning, and of course, nothing worse will happen to them the rest of the day. Watch Cane Toads: an Un-natural History to become fully educated and creeped out.

Or if eating a ranid for breakfast doesn’t have you licking your lips, think about another invasive for lunch: silverfin. Sounds delicious, even though it is just one the few species of Asian carp given a new, more gastronomically pleasing handle. Before you run for your fishing pole, take a look at this video: they can weigh up to 40 pounds and jump up to 10 feet. Many in boats have been injured. Carp-e diem, caveat emptor.

These are the same bottom feeders you may have heard lately are threatening the Great Lakes–this critter another “good idea” brought here in the late 1800s by our government as a food fish about the same time as they were singing the praises of kudzu. I used to catch big grass carp (one of the Asian species) on a hand line at summer camp (with bread dough mixed with jello. I’m not kidding.) Nobody wanted them but the cooks. The common wisdom regarding the best way to use them for the table:

Take a large carp. Encase it in fresh cow dung. Bake in oven at low heat for 30 minutes. Remove from oven. Carefully extract fish from cow dung. Throw away the fish. Eat the cow dung.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen canned carp. Do they call it that or give it a more highbrow name? Isn’t the Jewish dish gefilte fish made with carp? I know they are bottom feeders and somehow, that, and their ugly face (compared to a manly bass!) would tend to turn the modern diner off. They were thought quite worthy of the table at one time.

  2. You can’t buy canned carp. You have to do it yourself. Scale and gut the fish, wash thoroughly, then cut into chunks bone and all. I used to skin them, but that isn’t necessary, just neater. Soak an hour in a brine made of 1/2 pound of salt and 1 gallon of water. Drain, then pack solidly into pint jars leaving 1/2 inch of headroom. Add 1 Tablespoon of cooking oil and seal tightly. Process at 10 pounds of pressure for 100 minutes. I used to fish Barren River above Bowling Green for catfish and would often come home with more carp than cats. Suited me fine. The cats got fried, the carp got canned. If you ever do get the chance to try some, do. You won’t be disappointed.

  3. Hmmm… canned carp?! I used to catch a ton of carp in the Allegheny River north of Pittsburgh at my uncle’s camp. They sure are some smelly buggers!
    Everyone always told me to throw them back and that they are no good to eat. They say you can’t get the smell of the river out of them and they are full of bones making them too hard to clean.

    Also, there are two nice fish markets in Pittsburgh and one of them has a big tank full of fish that you can pick out. Some of them they call “Bull fish” but they look just like carp.

    Since moving away from home I’ve lived in several coastal cities where I’ve heard plenty about people eating carp. I would try it if I had a good recipe. I think that the folks on the Great Lakes should use this as an option. By the time they wait for the government to get anything done about it ther’ll be a new species of Arctic Asian Carp.

  4. I used to smoke Mullet when I lived in Florida and I was wondering if any of you have tried smoked carp? I’ve heard talk of it down south but I’ve never seen it on a menu anywhere nor have I ever seen a bundle of it shrink wrapped in a grocer’s cooler. Any ideas or suggestions on this one.