For many people, carp suffers from the Marmite effect - you either love it or hate it. I have recently attended a carp gourmet evening organised by the Guild of Food Writers and I have been converted into a big fan.
The problem with carp is that it is an earthy fish with a strong, "muddy", harsh flavour. But purging the fish before they are caught can solve this. They are simply removed from their growing ponds and placed in clear water tanks with running fresh spring water for four to five days prior to harvest. Alternatively, you can place the fish into a bowl of salted water (2 tablespoons salt to 1 litre of water) for 2 hours. Rinse thoroughly and cook immediately.
The other problem with carp is that it has a tendency to be annoyingly bony. But again there is a simple solution - to ensure the fish is just cooked and no more. In this way the bones are easily removed. Once purged and cooked correctly, carp can be transformed into a gourmet fish dish.
As we all know from shop prices, salmon and cod are both very expensive to produce and to buy. Carp is much easier to farm and is 50 per cent more efficient in terms of feed to fish grown. Carp occupies a lower level in the food chain and requires less energy to produce protein, much of which they can gain from natural sources in their ponds. In fact, more carp are farmed worldwide than any other group of fish - much of this takes place in Asia but also in central and Eastern Europe.
However, the message needs to get out that it is a tasty healthy alternative to salmon and cod. To maintain the sustainability of our fish supplies we will need to move to new fish varieties, but changing people's attitude and behaviour is a challenge. Many restaurants are taking up the idea by putting carp on its menus, and the fish can also be purchased by mail order or at more enlightened fishmongers.
Currently, carp costs about £7 per kg and a 600g–800g fish will serve 3-4 people, so it is economical. I suggest you remove the head, as it is unattractive and very tough before cooking.
Carp is an oily fish and tends to be used in the same way as mackerel. Its flesh is perfect in pies or pasta, it can be fried and enjoyed with chips, or you can marinate it, grill or bake with sesame oil, garlic and ginger. It also lends itself to a light stuffing - for example, with lemongrass, spring onions, peppers and fresh herbs.
The traditional Ashkenazi dish of stuffed carp, otherwise known as gefilte fish, is still much loved, but a little twist towards a modern approach might just help carp's long-term popularity.
It is well worth experimenting with this highly underrated fish, with the added bonus that by switching away from salmon or cod you will certainly help the marine ecology.
Left is my new revolutionary recipe.
Mediterranean Carp stew
Preparation time: 2 hours 15 minutes.
Cooking time: 35 minutes. Serves 6 people
● 1.5kg whole carp cut into 6 cutlets – sliced through the bone
● 750g salad tomatoes - skinned and roughly chopped
● 4 red onions - skinned and finely chopped
● 2 yellow peppers - quartered and deseeded and roughly chopped
● 4 garlic cloves - skinned and finely chopped
● 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
● 2 tablespoons sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil
● 100ml white wine
● 150ml vegetable stock
● 8 threads saffron mixed with 2 tablespoons boiling water
● Large bunch of parsley
● 2 tablespoons olive oil
● Salt and freshly ground black pepper
● Garnish: 1 lemon cut in to wedges, sprigs of parsley and sliced crusty bread
● Soak the cutlets in 1 litre of water with 2 tablespoons of salt for 2 hours. Rinse and pat dry.
● Coat both sides of the carp with smoked paprika.
● Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan.
● Sauté the carp for 2 minutes to seal in the spice. l Add the onions, garlic and peppers and cook for 5 minutes.
● Add the wine, stock, sun-dried tomatoes, saffron and parsley.
● Bring to the boil.
● Simmer covered for 15-20 minutes or until the fish is cooked. Taste and adjust seasoning accordingly.
● Serve immediately with crusty bread or plain boiled rice.