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Famous chefs say carp recipes can help eliminate environmental threat

mark cooking carp

Do you want to eat carp schnitzel, or is a carp burger more your taste?

The invasive species has wreaked havoc on waterways in the Murray-Darling Basin for decades.

While it may be a disappointing catch for amateur fishermen, who throw it back on the riverbank, one of Australia’s top chefs sees it as an opportunity.

Chef Mark Best said that while visiting his home state of South Australia, he served a Thai-inspired carp dish at a gourmet feast in the Riverland.

“It was quite a big statement to go to grazers and farmers and orchards, who don’t eat much seafood at all, and put a plate of carp in front of them as the first dish,” said Mr. Best.

Minced carp for a Thai Larb street food dish
Chef Mark Best said carp worked well in place of minced pork in a Thai Larb dish. Provided: Jacob Jennings Photography

“If I hadn’t told anyone it was actually carp, they wouldn’t have had a clue.”

Mr Best said he was happy to see the plates wiped clean.

“Usually they hit the fish on the head and throw them on the bank, or they put them in yabby traps or turn them into dung,” he said.

“I wanted to show that there is a valuable opportunity on their doorstep. And they loved it.”

Carp breathes from the waterCarp breathes from the water
Mr Best said carp can be used for everything from fish cakes to fish sauce.Supplied: Shutterstock

Cleaning up the muddy reputation

Mr Best said he had a clear memory of growing up in Murray Bridge before carp.

“I think me and my friends didn’t start catching them until we were 12,” he said.

“Before that time, we only caught local species.”

Chef Mark Best is wearing sunglasses and holding a carp he caught.  He's on a dinghy with fisherman Glen Hill.Chef Mark Best is wearing sunglasses and holding a carp he caught.  He's on a dinghy with fisherman Glen Hill.
Mr Best is fishing for carp in the Lower Lakes with Africa chef Duncan Welgemoed and Glen Hill of Coorong Wild Seafood company.Provided: Jacob Jennings Photography

He said they then became the dominant species.

“We used to try to beat each other and catch the biggest fish possible,” he said.

According to a report for the National Carp Control Plan, there are between 200 and 350 million carp in Australia’s waterways.

A Commonwealth plan to manage carp was expected to be delivered in July 2018, but a spokesman for the Department of Agriculture said it had been delayed until mid-2022.

Mr Best said his upbringing in the country inspired him to think about working with carp, rather than wasting it.

Mr. Best said he hoped to inspire more people to open their minds and mouths.

“A common misconception is that they are bottom feeders and sift through mud, he said.

“The muddy taste is actually a stress hormone and is absent if treated properly.

“It’s all about education.”

Chef Mark Best accompanies a young tattooed chef as he scoops up a carp dish.Chef Mark Best accompanies a young tattooed chef as he scoops up a carp dish.
Mr Best shares his tips for cooking carp with other chefs and runs running classes in Sydney.Provided: Jacob Jennings Photography

From cottage industry to commercial viability

While carp is widely consumed in Europe and Asia, the freshwater fish market is locally niche.

Tracy Hill and her husband Glen have been selling carp for years through their Meningie-based company Coorong Wild Seafood.

“We used to have a thriving river fishery that was restructured 20 years ago,” said Ms Hill.

She said there are only about six carp fishing licenses in the area now.

“But because there’s no demand for carp right now, other than a little fertilizer or rock crayfish bait, it’s not something people want to start targeting,” she said.

Chefs Mark Best and Duncan Welgemoed stand in matching black shirts with Tracy and Glen Hill of Coorong Wild Seafood. Chefs Mark Best and Duncan Welgemoed stand in matching black shirts with Tracy and Glen Hill of Coorong Wild Seafood.
Chefs Mark Best and Duncan Welgemoed team up with Tracy and Glen Hill of Coorong Wild Seafood to raise the profile of carp.Provided: Jacob Jennings Photography

Ms Hill said significant investment was needed to make carp mining a commercially viable industry.

“Out of 1,000 kilos of fish, you only get about 200 kilos of product because current processing methods are all manual,” she said.

“There are machines out there that will make it more efficient… but the actual meat recovery is currently around 20 percent because of the way we have to do it manually.”

Mr Best said it was strange that Australia was a net importer of seafood despite an abundance of fish.

“Why import fish sauce when we can easily make a quality Australian product? Murray River fish sauce.

“If I had the money I would invest in myself, but please have someone do it.”

Maggie Bear has a big smile.  She has gray hair, is cropped short and wears bright red lipstick and a matching scarf.Maggie Bear has a big smile.  She has gray hair, is cropped short and wears bright red lipstick and a matching scarf.
Maggie Beer says carp can be delicious with the right preparation and ingredients. Delivered: Maggie Bear

Full marks from Maggie for carp

Mr Best is not alone in his passion for saving the river plague.

Barossa chef Maggie Beer also said she had some favorite recipes using carp.

“Fry it in nut butter – make it an anchovy butter to melt over it and you’ll have a beautiful fillet,” said Mrs. Beer.

“Mark has very strong ties to his grandparents’ river and is one of Australia’s best chefs, so listen to him.”

Posted 1 hour ago1 hour agoMon 9 May 2022 at 01:06† updated 1 hour ago1 hour agoMon 9 May 2022 at 01:34