Silver Carp
Whole Silver Carp [Hypophthalmichthys molitrix]

This is an Asian carp that has been introduced worldwide for food and for cleaning algae out of lakes and reservoirs - though it often becomes a pest. This fish, like the closely related Bighead Carp, is a plankton eating filter feeder, but it feeds a little deeper than the Bighead. It is the worlds most important farmed fish, but it only began to to appear in Southern California's Asian markets in 2012. By 2015 It could be found both in the live fish tanks and frozen.

This fish is a major pest in the Mississippi, Illinois, Ohio and Missouri rivers. While the photo specimen was just just 13 inches long and weighed only 12-1/8 ounces, they can grow to well over 40 pounds and leap 10 feet out of the water when startled. Many recreational boaters in fast ski boats have been injured and even killed by leaping fish. Contests are held to catch as many as possible, but there is no effective control method - except to eat them all. They are notably delicious, but as with any other carp, you have to get accustomed to dealing with the spines, something which most of the world has accomplished.

This is one of the most widely farmed fish in the world, and has an ecological advantage over many farmed fish in that it doesn't need to be fed other fish. Many other farmed fish require harvesting wild fish from the sea and making them into fish meal pellets. This fish gets along fine on vegetarian material, including algae.

More on the Carp Family.

This is a delicious fish. The flesh is white, tender, smooth in texture and mild but flavorful. It has practically no "fishy" taste at all, and is considered one of the very finest eating fish - just about everywhere except North America.

Silver Carp is a fish to eat in quiet contemplation, not boisterous conversation, and should never be served to children - because you must pay close attention to the fish, and appreciate just how delicious it is. You see, like all others in this order of fish, Silver Carp has a "spine problem". The long, branching, thread-like spines embedded in the flesh can be rather annoying to the neophyte, and, unlike those of the milkfish, cannot be removed before cooking. To enjoy delicious carp, Americans just have to learn to deal with the spines at the table like the rest of the world does. If you don't want to deal with them, use catfish instead (unless you're an observant Jew or Muslim - catfish isn't kosher or halal).

Personally I don't have a big problem with the spines. As with other fish, I eat carp with chopsticks, breaking it up as I go along. The spines are fairly easy to find and pull out that way, but some do sneak by and have to be dealt with in the mouth. Even in formal Victorian society it was permissible to remove fish bones from the mouth (but nothing else) so they could enjoy delicious carp.

Of course, if you just can't deal with the spines, you can do as the Asians do with essentially inedible fish like Dace or Featherback. Make them into fish balls.

There's no need to skin Silver Carp, but some picky eaters just won't eat skin, so you may want to serve skin-on filets skin side down so such people can leave it on the plate easily. Yes, they're being stupid, but what can you do?

Buying:   Most American fish markets don't carry carp, but it can be found in markets serving a Southeast Asian Chinese or Philippine community. Markets serving Chinese and Southeast Asians will have Silver Carp, Common Carp, and some other varieties. Silver Carp can often be found in the live fish tanks. The Philippine markets generally have Common Carp, but not Silver Carp. The photo specimen was purchased frozen for 2015 US $2.99 / pound, but live ones sell for about $5.49 per pound.

Cooking:   Most cooking methods can be used with Silver Carp. Fillets can be pan fried with a light dusting of rice flour, but not heavy batter which will make the spines very difficult to find. For the same reason only light sauces should be used. I eat mine with a lemon, white wine and butter sauce, with herbs. The flesh remains firm enough to steam and poach, but is is quite tender, so a rapid boil or long cooking is likely to break it up. You can poach fillets skin-on. They will curl, but you can lay them out flat on the plate.

Do Not cut any carp into pieces smaller than 2 inches long. Doing so makes the spines nearly impossible to deal with. For small fish, (fillets or whole) it is best to not cut at all if possible. The larger the fish, the easier the spines are to deal with.

Scales:   The scales are large, but have very moderate adhesion, so they are pretty easy to scrape off and don't fly around a whole lot. They curl as they dry so are easy to clean up - but don't let them get into your drains, they could clog.

Cleaning:   This fish is fairly easy to clean, just cut from the vent right up to the underside of the jaw (you'll need kitchen shears from the pelvic fins forward) and pull stuff out. While the innards pull out easily enough, there's quite a bit of them, and they are rather mushy. Rinse the cavity well, rubbing off any remaining mush. The gills are fairly easy to pull out, but break up a lot. It may be easier to deal with them when preparing the head for stock.

Skin:   Silver Carp skin shrinks only moderately when cooked. It has no strong or objectional flavors, so it hardly seems worth the bother to remove it. If you insist, Silver Carp fillets can be skinned using the standard long knife and cutting board Method, but be warned - the skin is thin, delicate and breaks up very easily - better to leave it.

Filleting:   This fish is fairly easy to fillet, with a coherent bone structure to follow. The flesh is, however, soft and tender, so handle with care. When you get to the rib cage, just use your kitchen shears to cut the ribs from the backbone and pull them from the fillet with long nose pliers - the biggest ones practically fall out. At this time you'll feel plenty of the infamous spines. Don't try to pull them out, they are branched and in firm - you'll tear away too much flesh.

Yield:   The photo specimen, 13 inches long and 12-1/8 ounces, yielded 7.0 ounces of skin-on fillet (58%) and 6 ounces skinless fillet (49%). Some fish, with more stuff inside, have yielded 48% skin-on.

Stock:   Silver Carp heads, fins, bones and any removed skins make a very serviceable light-medium flavored stock. There is very little oil - but you should separate what there is and discard it (use your gravy separator). For details see our Fish Stock page.

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