Two weeks ago I went to the dedication of the new building that houses the National Great Rivers Research and Education Center next to the dam at Alton. After a lengthy ceremony, we were allowed to tour the facility and were given samples of food characteristic of the Mississippi Valley: deep fried ravioli from St. Louis, brats from St. Paul, shrimp from Louisiana, corn chowder from Iowa, and so on. At the end of the line Chef Phillipe Parola offered us Carp Cakes, made from Silver Fin Fish aka Asian Carp.
Lying on the table, next to the platter of carp cakes, were two half stripped carp. The chef claims to have broken the code for cooking the fish: Cut off its tail and bleed it. Bloody fish are not good fish, but if you bleed it, the flesh turns white and the flavor mild. Because the fish eats plankton it comes without mercury or other poisons embedded in its flesh. Because the fish eats plankton, it is competing with the larvae, fingerlings of more desirable fish–bass, cats, and bream. But if we develop a taste for Silver Fin, we might be able to eat enough to save the others. And there plenty of carp out there.
Working with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, Chef Phillipe developed a way to process the fish without the bones and developed recipes for Silver fin cakes, Silver fin Gumbo, Silver fin balls. And he found the quality good enough to sell as imitation crab. Included on his site are recipes for Fried Silver Fin Strips, Silver Fin Almondine, Silver Fin with Berries, and Silver Fin Cakes.
Back in July Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed an agreement with the Chinese to export up to 30 tons of carp taken from the Illinois River. The state is investing $2 million in a processing plant in Pearl. It will be marketed as Wild Mississippi River Fish. For the Chinese, carp is high class stuff; for Illinois commercial anglers and processors, carp is 180 jobs.
The Chinese certainly have a taste for carp and their carp come from polluted waters. We do make an effort to clean our waters. So, as Gov. Pat Quinn suggested several months ago, catch and send the fish to China.
The town of Grafton, located just above the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers, wants in on the action. Oliver Ready, who has been in the fish business for 43 years, and Chef Phillipe have created Grafton Summit Enterprises to catch, process, and broker Silver Fin. They hope to create a domestic market for the fish and generate 80 new jobs in Grafton. The partners have named their company Inland Fisheries.