Celebrity chefs say carp recipes could help clear environmental menace

Would you eat carp schnitzel, or perhaps a carp burger is more to your taste?

The invasive species has wreaked havoc on waterways across the Murray- Darling basin for decades.

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

Chef Mark Best said he served up a Thai-inspired carp dish at a fine dining feast in the Riverland during a visit to his home state of South Australia.

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

Carp mince for a Thai Larb street food dish
Chef Mark Best said carp worked well in place of pork mince in a Thai Larb dish. (Supplied: Jacob Jennings Photography)

“If I hadn’t told anyone that it was actually carp, they wouldn’t have had any idea.”

Mr Best said he was pleased to see plates wiped clean.

“Usually, they’re either knocking the fish on the head and throwing them on the bank or putting them in yabby traps or turning them into fertilizer,” he said.

“I wanted to show that there’s this valuable opportunity right on their doorstep. And they absolutely loved that.”

Carp breathing out of water
Mr Best said carp could be used for anything from fish cakes to fish sauce.(Supplied: Shutterstock)

Clearing the muddy reputation

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

“I think me and my mates only started catching them when we were 12,” he said.

“Before that we were only catching local species.”

Chef Mark Best wear sunglasses and holds a carp he has caught.  He is on a dinghy with fisherman Glen Hill.
Mr Best fishes for carp in the Lower Lakes with Africola chef Duncan Welgemoed and Glen Hill from Coorong Wild Seafood company.(Supplied: Jacob Jennings Photography)

He said they then became the dominant species.

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

There are between 200-350 million carp in Australia’s waterways, according to a report for the National Carp Control Plan.

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

Mr Best said his country upbringing inspired him to consider how to work with carp, rather than waste it.

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

“A common misperception is that they’re bottom feeders and they sift through mud, he said.

“The muddy flavor is actually a stress hormone and is absent if treated right.

“It’s all just about education.”

Chef Mark Best supervises a young tatooed chef as he plates up a carp dish.
Mr Best has been sharing his tips for cooking carp with other chefs and running classes in Sydney.(Supplied: Jacob Jennings Photography)

From cottage industry to commercial viability

While carp is commonly eaten in Europe and Asia, locally the market for the freshwater fish is niche.

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

“We used to have a thriving river fishery which got restructured 20 odd years ago,” Ms Hill said.

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

“But because there’s no demand for carp apart from a bit of fertilizer at the moment or rock lobster bait, it’s not something that people want to go and target,” she said.

Chefs Mark Best and Duncan Welgemoed stand in matching black shirts with Tracy and Glen Hill from Coorong Wild Seafood.
Chefs Mark Best and Duncan Welgemoed have been working with Tracy and Glen Hill from Coorong Wild Seafood to raise the profile of carp.(Supplied: Jacob Jennings Photography)

Ms Hill said a 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 of the current processing methods is all manual,” she said.

“There’s machinery that will make it more efficient … but the actual meat recovery at the moment is around the 20 per cent mark because of the way we have to manually do it.”

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

“Why are we importing fish sauce when we could be easily making a quality Australian product? Murray River fish sauce.

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

Maggie Beer has a big smile.  She has gray hair, cut short, and is wearing bright red lipstick and a scarf to match.
Maggie Beer says carp can be delicious with the right cooking and ingredients. (Supplied: Maggie Beer)

Full marks from Maggie for carp

Mr Best is not alone in his passion for redeeming the river pest.

Barossa cook Maggie Beer also said she had some favorite recipes involving carp.

“Pan fry it in nut brown butter – make an anchovy compound butter to melt over it and then you have a beautiful fillet,” Ms Beer said.

“Mark has very strong ties to the river from his grandparents and is one of Australia’s top chefs – so listen to him.”

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