Groups say Asian carp could help solve hunger in Illinois

CHAMPAIGN — Asian carp might get a bad rap as an invasive species of fish in Illinois.

But several Illinois organizations want to get the word out that silver Asian carp — sometimes called silverfin — works well for dinner.

At a demonstration and press conference Wednesday at the Daily Bread Soup Kitchen in Champaign, officials from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Illinois American Water, Feeding Illinois and the Eastern Illinois Foodbank got together to talk about eating Asian carp.

In a state where hunger is a problem, and protein — especially lean protein — is an expense that some people can't afford, eating Asian carp, which happens to be healthy and plentiful, might be a smart solution.

Creating a commercial market for the fish could mean an increase in fishing and manufacturing jobs in the state, as well, said Karen Cotton, spokeswoman for Illinois American Water.

Tracy Smith, executive director of Feeding Illinois, the network to which the Eastern Illinois Foodbank belongs, said there are still challenges as far as figuring out how to harvest and process the fish in a way that will be usable to food banks.

But she said the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and Illinois American Water are bypassing that problem, to some extent, by providing the fish directly to soup kitchens across the state.

In the last year, they've served between 2,200 and 2,300 meals of Asian carp at soup kitchens around the state, said Travis Loyd, deputy director of the Illinois Department of National Resources.

Part of the push is to let people know that silver Asian carp, or what's being called silverfish, is a nutritious, safe fish for human consumption. They're doing it through a program called Target Hunger Now, which Loyd said isn't funded with any state money, but through a grant from Illinois American Water.

Loyd said the fish in Illinois' river systems has been tested extensively, and it's been found to be one of the safest fish for human consumption, with no warnings.

Target Hunger Now is working with Louisiana Chef Philippe Parola, who works with and cooks Asian carp.

He explained that the silver Asian carp, or what he calls silverfin, can be between 13 and 14 pounds and can eat their weight in plankton each day. The fish, along with bighead Asian carp, are an invasive species all the way from Louisiana up to Canada, and they deplete the food supply for other native species.

Luckily, silver Asian carp are "excellent to eat," and those who are concerned about the environment should work to create a demand among consumers for the fish.

Parola filleted the fish as a part of Wednesday's presentation, commenting as he did that it looked like any other fish to him.

"You can see how beautiful the flesh is," he said, adding that it is white and looks like a tilapia filet.

He said the silver Asian carp is tender, bland protein because the fish is not a bottom-feeder.

It has little mercury content, he said, and is high in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.

Once the fillets were removed, Tassilo Homolatsch, who's studied at the Culinary Institute of America and cooks every Wednesday at Daily Bread, coated them with Creole seasoning, which he said is milder than Cajun seasoning.

He pan-fried the fillets in a mixture of half butter, half olive oil, and the resulting fish was tender but firm, and didn't taste much like fish.

Observers sampled the fish and commented on its flavor and texture.

"Chef, good job," said state Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana, who also took part in a press conference following the demonstration, along with state Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-Champaign.

"I happen to like fish anyway, so I was anxious to try it," she said during the press conference.

For lunch, the soup kitchen served a silverfin gratin, which combined the fish in a cheddar cheese sauce.

Comments

News-Gazette.com embraces discussion of both community and world issues. We welcome you to contribute your ideas, opinions and comments, but we ask that you avoid personal attacks, vulgarity and hate speech. We reserve the right to remove any comment at our discretion, and we will block repeat offenders' accounts. To post comments, you must first be a registered user, and your username will appear with any comment you post. Happy posting.

Login or register to post comments

yates wrote on June 28, 2012 at 8:06 am

Article did'nt mention if it is as boney as the domestic variety. I hope this works out as a food fish because some of the rivers in the northwestern part of the state are teeming with these unwanted fish.

rsp wrote on June 28, 2012 at 9:06 am
shurstrike wrote on June 28, 2012 at 12:06 pm

They're not only bonier than the common Carp, but the arrangement of the bones are irradic at best. If you've never tried cleaning one, you're in for a challenge - far worse than the Y bones of a Northern Pike. The meat is rather good, but good luck getting it out.

Orbiter wrote on June 28, 2012 at 9:06 am

Several problems with this article. Firstly, "Asian carp" is not a real name. There are at least four species included, known as Silver, Bighead, Black, and Grass carp. Each one is a separate species, and actually cover three different genera.

Secondly, because these are officially declared as invasive species, there are legal restrictions on possession and transportation of the fish, and it would be very helpful if the article would clarify whether it's legal to catch them, and transport the dead fish back to Champaign (it's not entirely clear to me that it is) or elsewhere in the state. This is the fish that they are desperately trying to keep OUT of the Great Lakes. Certainly it would be illegal to transport the live fish, and I believe some species are able to survive a considerable time out of water.

Thirdly, because these fish are vegetarians, they are not easily caught using a baited hook. Usually they are an accidental catch. To actively harvest them from natural waterways is difficult.

Finally,[quote]...where hunger is a problem, and protein — especially lean protein — is an expense that some people can't afford, eating Asian carp... might be a smart solution.[/quote]That sounded great, until I got to the part later in the article where it said:[quote]He pan-fried the fillets in a mixture of half butter, half olive oil, and the resulting fish was tender but firm, and didn't taste much like fish.[/quote]If you start with a lean protein and load it up with breading and grease, you might as well be serving hot dogs or fried pig skin. 

rsp wrote on June 28, 2012 at 9:06 am

But several Illinois organizations want to get the word out that silver Asian carp — sometimes called silverfin — works well for dinner.

A government agency is involved. They are trying to create a market for the fish, something they have been trying to do for a few years now. Also, when introducing an unfamiliar food sometimes it helps to serve it in a familiar way to increase the likelihood of acceptance. Both butter and olive oil can be parts of a healthy diet.

drewbert41 wrote on June 28, 2012 at 9:06 am

Dude they jump in your boat.. not as hard to harvest as you think.

There is a plant in peoria that buys them by the boatload. Processes them and sells them back to Asia!

rsp wrote on June 28, 2012 at 10:06 am

I always wondered why nobody was processing them for fertilizer. For a while they kept doing stories about how they didn't have a market because they were so bony so it seemed like a good idea. 

shurstrike wrote on June 28, 2012 at 12:06 pm

The limiting "possesion" refers to live fish, not dead ones, and I believe there is no limit for harvesting of the Asian Carps as is with any other rough fish.

"There are no catch or size limits.  Possession of live specimens, progeny thereof, viable egg, or gametes is prohibited.

Eat away.

And Orbitor, if you want to catch some a half hour from here, I'd be happy to introduce you to some wrist-bending fishing.  They may be as ugly as sin, but you'll be hard pressed to find a freshwater fish that puts up a fight that would challenge the Asian Carps.  They're a blast when you get them on.

 

 

 

C. Alcyon wrote on July 04, 2012 at 12:07 pm

You can pan-fry them without breading. And a tablespoon each of butter and olive oil is all you need for pan-frying fish. You don't have to deep-fry them. Olive oil is a healthy fat, and adding a little butter lightens it a bit so it doesn't taste oily. I'll bet they'd taste great seasoned with a little smoked paprika.

shurstrike wrote on June 28, 2012 at 12:06 pm

They're not only bonier than the common Carp, but the arrangement of the bones are irradic at best.  If you've never tried cleaning one, you're in for a challenge - far worse than the Y bones of a Northern Pike.  The meat is rather good, but good luck getting it out.

Asian Carp & sundried tomato pizza from our kitchen.  Delish.

http://pic100.picturetrail.com/VOL1176/13223837/24148101/403220520.jpg

rsp wrote on June 28, 2012 at 7:06 pm

That pizza looks really good.

shurstrike wrote on June 29, 2012 at 12:06 am

Thanks!  After getting over the thought of it being carp on a pizza, it really was quite good.  If someone can figure out an efficient way to thoroughly debone them, there is a huge reserve of good food out there.

ksquish wrote on June 28, 2012 at 12:06 pm

I wanted to stop by yesterday just to see what it tasted like, but it closed before I got there. (I was planning to make a donation since I'm not the intended audience of the soup kitchen.) Does anyone know when they might serve Asian carp again, or if it's available at a grocery store or restaurant nearby? 

yates wrote on June 29, 2012 at 8:06 am

Ok, it appears that they are quite boney. May be tasty but other then people that can expertly filet the bones out, it's unlikely this fish will become a hit with consumers.

Orbiter wrote on June 30, 2012 at 12:06 am

They can still be turned into fish meal and extruded into "soylent blue cakes" to feed the poor.  Put a picture of a spare rib on the package, and they won't even notice.  ;)

Fromthearea wrote on June 30, 2012 at 10:06 am

I was talking to a relative in Clay county, IL last weekend about hunters donating deer to be processed for people in need.  Do we have that up here?  That would make a great story.  I believe an ag company may have sponsored it down there, and some of the hunters chipped in to cover some of the processing to extend some of the food relief beyond what the initial funding allowed for.  Makes sense to do that too.  We have too many deer running around according to quite a few agencies.