If you’re an avid angler, you might at least catch a carp once in your life, intentionally or not. Carp is among the most popular freshwater species and is generally fun to catch. Yet, many people often mentioned carp as inedible fish as they might have unsavory, muddy flavors. So, can you eat carp?
Carp is good to eat if properly prepared and cooked. In fact, this species has long been a good food fish in homes across the world. While carp is associated with a fishy flavor, the truth is people also say the same thing about any freshwater fish. If your fish is caught in fresh, clean water and still fresh, the taste is guaranteed to be great, or at least, is not as fishy as most people’s assumptions.
All About Carp
Carp is a hardy, large oily freshwater fish belonging to the Cyprinidae family. They are typically recognized with the barbels on either side of the upper jaw, large scales, and a downturned protrusible mouth. Depending on the body of water they reside in, their body may vary from yellow, brassy green to golden brown and silvery.
This species is often introduced initially to the reservoirs to control vegetation there. They are bottom feeders and can thrive in different living conditions, so you can easily spot them in most lakes, ponds, and rivers.
A large population of carp can be found in Eastern America. They spread the backwaters of the Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, and Illinois rivers. There are fewer carps in the country’s Western portion, mainly populated in rivers like the Rio Grande and Colorado.
While finding carp is quite easy, they are notoriously hard to catch. For one reason, carp are pretty hesitant to feed and highly wary. As a result, even the slightest moment can spook them and ruin your chance of catching one.
How about the fighting ability of this freshwater species? We’ve caught various species and would argue that the carp is one of the hardest fighters we’ve come across.
We don’t have much trouble catching trout with a spinning rod, but it’s another story with carp. When the water is cold, carp put up a harder fight than the water warms up.
How To Prepare Carp
Carp swims in shallow muddy waters, which is why some people associate it with an untasty muddy flavor. If you’re lucky to get a live carp, it pays to let it swim in a tub of freshwater for a few days to improve the taste.
Add some salt into the water each day, and do not feed the fish. It will help to reduce the muddy flavor and significantly improve the taste.
Clean the carp
First, hose off all the slime on the carp. Then, work the knife from head to tail to scrape all of the scales. Do it thoroughly as the carp scale is quite large, which can ruin the taste. Rinse the scale off the fish with clean water.
Fillet the carp
Use a sharp knife to slit the meat section just behind the grills. You must be careful not to puncture any organs. Work your knife along the backbone to the belly and then tail.
Since the ribs of carp are pretty dense, it is easy to feel them with your knife. Continue moving the knife until you reach the tail, and then remove the fillet out. You don’t want to keep the belly meat, guts, or carcass, so slice them off the fillet.
Skin the carp
Unlike other fish that you can leave the skin on, such as salmon, carp have a mud vein, which is the part of dark meat running near the lateral line. The mud vein is just under the skin, which is why you need to skin the carp to get to it.
Once you take the fillet out of the fish, put it on a flat surface and slice the skin away. Remove the mud line and any dark meat with a V cut.
How To Cook Carp
Once you know the answer to, “can you eat carp?”, it’s time to pick up some tasty carp recipes. Carp is not an outlier, whether it’s about the taste or the ways to cook it.
The dense, durable flesh can hold up awesomely to the deep fryer or grills. Smoking is also a nice way to enjoy this fish, although it may take longer than other methods. Below are some tried-and-true recipes to cook your carp.
- Chopped onion (3 tbsp)
- Melted butter (6 tbsp)
- Cut celery (¾ cup)
- Salt (¾ tbsp)
- Pepper (⅛ tbsp)
- Bread crumbs (4 cups)
First, cook the butter and then add onion and celery. Then, add other remaining ingredients into the pan. Continue to stuff the mixture and use a string to keep the stuffing inside the fish.
Next, bake the fish in the oven at 375 degrees for 45 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the fish size. It’s worth noting that carp can be overcooked quite fast, so make sure you pay attention to the heat.
- Carp fillets (2 pounds)
- Pancake mix (1 cup)
- Buttermilk (1 cup)
- Salt (1 tbsp)
- Lemon wedges (optional)
Put the fillets in a shallow dish and then add buttermilk thoroughly. Let the milk soak into the meat for around 30 minutes. Make sure to flip the fillets over once evenly distribute the buttermilk.
Add salt to the pancake mix before patting the fillets into the mix. You should evenly cover the mix on both sides. Fry the fillets in the pan for around 5 to 10 minutes until they are well cooked and become brown. Next, drain off the excess oil using a paper towel before serving them with lemon wedges.
- Carp (2 fish)
- Soy sauce (3 tbsp)
- Salt (1 tbsp)
- Lemon juice (2 tbsp)
- Lemon peel (1 tbsp)
Take a small bowl and put the lemon juice and grated zest together. Next, you need to add soy sauce and add salt to the mix. Make several cuts across the fish body so the marinade can penetrate more easily later.
Coat the fish with marinade and let them sit for around 40 minutes in the fridge. You may want to give the fish a few turns during this time to let them soak the sauce more evenly.
Next, place them over an oiled grill over medium heat. You can baste the fish once or twice with the remaining marinade. Serve the fish hot with herbs or lettuce if you want.
- Water (1 gallon)
- Kosher or canning salt (1,5 cups)
- Brown sugar (1,5 cups)
- Onion powder (5 tbsp)
- Garlic powder (3 tbsp)
Note: Avoid using impurified salt like sea salt or table salt to keep the best flavor for your smoked carp.
How to brine carp
Pour the water, add all of the ingredients and mix them thoroughly. Next, put the fish in a deep container and add the brine. (Make sure the salt dissolves completely).
The brining should take 24 hours to let the meat thoroughly soak the mixture before bringing it to the smoker. The ideal temperature to brine your fish should be 38 degrees or under.
How to smoke carp
During the last 2 hours of the brining, you can prepare the smoker. Start with soaking the wood into the water for 2 hours. The woody touch of wood such as cherry, applewood, and hickory matches the carp flavor.
Drain the fish from the brine, and if you want, you can rinse off the saltwater and pat them dry before smoking.
Oil the grill grates or smoker racks lightly to prevent the fish from sticking. You need to maintain an internal temperature of 160 degrees during the first 3 hours.
It means the temperature of the smoker should be at 225 degrees. Also, you need to keep this temperature steady for 30 minutes to make sure the smoked carp are edible.
Avoid letting the temperature increase too rapidly during smoking as it can cause untasty curds for the fish. When needed, cool down the smoker by adding some water to the wood chips, especially for those first three hours.
You can check if the fish is at the ideal temperature by checking the thickest piece of the batch. Then, smoke your carp for 8 to 10 hours until they become flaky and brown.
Can you eat carp? While it might be off-putting to some about eating carp, the truth is these fish are pretty good for many taste buds. The key is you should properly prepare the fish (those mud lines need special attention) and know how to cook it.
In many parts of the world, Asia, for example, carp is a prime food fish, so it’s worth giving this fish a try instead of wasting it. There are different ways to cook carp, from baking to grill, pan-frying, to smoking. And it’s your turn to experience and decide for yourself whether carp is good to eat.
Born in Lakeland, Florida, Daniel has started fishing since he was just a tiny little kid. His father was a real good fisherman, as he taught Daniel tricks and tips to catch the fish better. From those childhood memories, Daniel has built up his love for fishing. Until now, he has been participating in several bass tournaments and currently serves as the Chief Editor of fishingonsunday.com to share his precious knowledge and experiences with many more people.