I spent last Thursday with one of the most interesting people I have met in quite a while. Jackson Landers is a self-proclaimed “adult-onset hunter” who is rapidly turning his interest in wild edibles into a cottage industry. Landers has a blog, The Locavore Hunter and a new book, The Beginner’s Guide to Hunting Deer for Food. He also teaches workshops that show urban/suburbanites how to turn backyard wildlife into table fare and makes frequent appearances in the New York Times. His latest project is a book that he hopes will transform the local-foods movement into a brigade to combat invasive species.
Knowing his interest in this last topic, I offered him the chance to catch, clean and eat some of Missouri’s distressingly abundant Asian carp. He jumped on that offer like a silver carp into a motorboat. Thursday morning found us motoring up the Blackwater River in a Conservation Department shocking boat, nets at the ready. Vince Travnichek, who supervises MDC’s Missouri River Field Station, was at the helm.
It took us maybe 15 minutes to gather enough silver carp to feed a large family. It was kind of silly using nets to catch fish; they kept jumping into the boat on their own, sometimes landing right in the holding tank. We kept at it until around noon to see if we could catch at least one bighead carp, but no luck. Back in the kitchen, Vince quickly turned half a dozen silver carp and one common carp into fillets and other cookable cuts and launched an invasive carp eat-athon that left us all stuffed to the…gills.
First up were deep-fried fillets that Vince had scored deeply with a knife before breading. Deep cuts in the meat exposes the many bones for which carp are infamous to hot oil, tenderizing all but the largest ones.
Next were buffalo ribs, so named because they normally are made from buffalo fish. In this case, the raw material was common carp. This critter is another invasive import, though we tend to forget that because it has been mucking up the United States’ waters since 1831. Vince cut out sections of flesh with one rib in each, the breaded and fried them, creating a fish stick with its own handle.
Then he chopped up a bunch of silver-carp fillets in a food processor. By mixing resulting slurry with mashed potatoes, commercial breading mix and Cajun seasoning, Vince created balls similar to hushpuppies. To be honest, I didn’t care for the gooey centers, but the crust was tasty.
Finally, Vince used a slightly different mix of breading and chopped-up carp to make patties. These were firmer on the inside than the fishballs and quite flavorful, but I found the chopped-up bones bothersome.
Last time I ate an Asian carp it was a 20-pound grass carp from Manito Lake south of Tipton. I smoked it whole, then boned the cooked flesh as best I could and ran it through a meat grinder before forming it into patties like crab cakes and frying them. At the time, I thought it was very good, but that might just be because I was personally invested in the endeavor.
Anyway, I hope Landers can get lots of people eating Asian carp. They seem to have replaced native species as the most common critters in the Missouri River and its tributaries. I think just about everyone would prefer to see the plankton that are these invading carps’ staple food turned into catfish, paddlefish, buffalo and other fish that belong in Missouri’s streams.