Silver carp: a tasty pestilence

By now, you’ve no doubt heard about the invasive species of fish that has infiltrated Kentucky’s waterways. Asian carp were discovered here a few years ago, and now are referred to locally as silver carp, or Kentucky silver carp.

The bad news is they present a hazard to other fish species because of their rapid reproductive habits. The good news is… they’re delicious.

Plenty of local restaurants serve, or have served, the fish, including Mayan Café, Wiltshire, Harvest and the Oakroom. Monnik Beer Co. was doing Friday fish fries during Lent this year using silver carp.

Having heard positive opinions, I’ve been wanting to try Kentucky silver carp — which, unlike common carp, is not a bottom feeder, making it healthful and tasty — and I was happy to learn that Mayan Street Food, the permanent food truck at Gravely Brewing, was serving tacos made with silver carp.

The tacos come with lightly-grilled morsels of fish, topped with pineapple and poblano salsa, shredded cabbage and a jalapeño aioli. Tasty toppings, to be sure, but it’s the fish I was after, so I dug down and yanked out a bite.

What I found was a dense, but flaky, white fish that was only mildly seasoned, if at all. The truth is, I’m not sure it even needs seasoning. It paired well with the chunks of pineapple, and there was even a bit of a spicy kick in the taco as a whole, thanks probably to the aioli. (The Northeast IPA I paired it with didn’t hurt anything, either.)

The fish offered a mild presence in the blend of flavors in the taco, and by that I mean it wasn’t fishy tasting. Rather, it was comparable to sea bass, with maybe just a hint of sweetness in the meat. It even reminded me a bit of frog legs, and might have even more so had it been battered and fried.

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To the eye, it could almost pass as chicken if one wasn’t paying close attention; it’s similarly textured and nearly as dense, although whiter than white meat. But the bigger-than-imagined flavor kept me coming back for bite after bite.

There are a couple of companies in the Commonwealth that are selling the fish to distributors and restaurants, one of those being Paducah’s Fin Gourmet Foods, which specializes in wild-caught fish. According to the Fin website (fingourmetfoods.com), Kentucky silver carp has the highest amount of Omega-3 fatty acids of freshwater fish, similar in content to wild-caught salmon.

In addition, there are only trace amounts of mercury or lead in the meat, and because they don’t eat other fish, they are particularly clean and wholesome. Fin states that 100 grams of silver carp meat has about 20 grams of pure fish protein, which apparently is very good if they’re using it as a selling point.

In fact, Fin is trying to turn the Asian carp into economic opportunities for a variety of people, while also helping to curb the population of the fish, which seems to keep spreading (news reports suggest they have infested the Ohio River near the McAlpine Locks and Dam) by providing jobs processing the meat to people who might otherwise not get a job.

Working with local fishermen, the Fin website says, it will attempt to “better manage the Asian carp so that our rivers/lakes/estuaries are better protected while employing people who need second chances from incarceration, drug court, domestic violence, or just to have a better life path.”

Now, I almost feel guilty eating cod. But seriously, after experiencing the pleasing flavor of Kentucky silver carp in those Mayan Food Truck tacos, I want to try the stuff served straight — grilled, fried, whatever. It tasted good enough to me that I don’t think it needs a lot of flavor enhancements. I mean, what tastes better than meat?

Harvest is serving it as an entrée with corn crust, while Smithtown Seafood in Lexington is serving it blackened as part of a platter — maybe one of those will be my next stop.

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