Prized beyond all other fish in much of Europe, carp is a common sight on tables across the continent. And in countries like Germany, Poland, and the Czech Republic, it’s the traditional Christmas meal in millions of homes!
Though carp has yet to generate much traction on the table in North America, you might want to consider serving this gentle giant.
Much of the reason Americans don’t eat carp is tradition: we simply don’t! This prejudice is based on nothing more than habit and doesn’t reflect the suitability of this fish for the table.
Keep in mind that carp are omnivorous, eating a variety of water grasses, mollusks, crustaceans, and insects. Their flavor, much like catfish, depends a lot on their specific diet and the water quality.
As you’d expect, better diets and better water yield tastier carp!
Table of Contents (clickable)
Want to try one of these recipes but don't have any carp? Learn how to catch carp!
Tips for Keeping and Dressing Carp
You wouldn’t eat beef that had been grazing over a landfill, and you shouldn’t eat carp (or catfish) from filthy water. But beyond that, a few tips will help you make the most of this delicacy:
- Kill your carp quickly with a sharp blow to the head or a knife inserted to sever its spine.
- Make sure to scale your fish carefully.
- On larger carp, remove the bloodline from the center of each side. It runs the length of the fish and is easy to identify by its dark color.
- Smaller carp are generally tastier than larger carp, a fact that’s true of most species of fish.
- If you’re going to cook your carp whole, leave the head intact. The flesh will remain much moister in the oven.
- In much of Europe, carp are sometimes kept in a full bathtub for a few days before eating. Supposedly, this further improves the flavor, but mostly, it’s a tradition that allows you to buy carp and keep it fresh for Christmas dinner!
Preparing carp for frying is pretty easy, though the best technique is a bit unusual. You’ll need a good fillet knife and a stout pair of fishing pliers:
Skinning and scoring make a huge difference, and you’ll be amazed by how good big pieces of fried carp are!
Carp Recipes the Whole Family Will Like
A crunchy, well-seasoned batter makes fried carp a treat everyone loves.
Prep. time: 30 min.
- 2 ½ pounds of carp, scored and cut into large pieces
- Zatarain’s or Louisiana Fish Fry (1/2 cup of seasoning mix per 1 lb. of fish)
- Canola oil
- Paper bag or plastic food storage box with a tight-sealing lid
- Frying thermometer
Pour one inch of canola oil into the bottom of a deep skillet or pot, and place over medium heat. As the oil heats to 350 degrees, pour slightly more than ½ cup of Zatarain’s or Louisiana Fish Fry into a medium paper bag or Tupperware-style plastic storage bin with a secure lid. Add a few pieces of carp at a time, tossing gently to coat them well with the fish fry.
You want to get the fish fry down into the scoring marks of the fish.
When the oil has reached the measured cooking temperature, carefully add a few pieces at a time, avoiding crowding the pan. Continue to monitor the oil temperature during cooking--it will drop as you add the fish but come back up to temp soon.
Cook until golden brown, turning fish once. Remove the finished carp, and cool on an oven rack over a cookie sheet.
Serve with lemon wedges, tartar sauce, cocktail sauce, or ketchup.
Asian-Style Carp Kebab
Carp are very popular in Chinese cuisine, where they’re featured whole with elaborate preparations.
Drawing on simple ingredients, this Asian-inspired take on kebabs is easy to make and a great opportunity for summer grilling.
Prep. time: 45 min.
- 2 ½ pounds of carp fillets, deboned and cut into large pieces
- 1 tbs. Sriracha sauce
- ⅓ cup soy sauce
- ⅓ cup water or white wine
- ⅓ cup brown sugar
- 2 tsp minced garlic
- 1 tsp. grated ginger
- 1 tsp sesame oil
In a large bowl, combine the ingredients and thoroughly coat the fish with marinade. Refrigerate overnight.
Using pre-soaked bamboo or metal skewers, prepare your carp kebabs, keeping about ¼ inch of space between each piece of fish to facilitate even cooking.
Grill over medium-high heat for 3 to 4 minutes on each side.
Carp Sauce Piquante
Zesty, tangy, and a touch spicy: a good sauce piquante is an ideal preparation for firm, flavorful fish like carp. Traditionally made with seafood ranging from alligator to turtle, redfish to catfish, carp works extremely well with this preparation.
Prep. time: 90 min.
- 3 ½ pounds of carp fillets, deboned and cut into medium pieces
- 2 cups onion, finely diced
- 1 cup yellow or red bell pepper, finely diced
- 2 stalks celery, finely diced
- 5 cloves of garlic, minced
- 2 cups canned tomato sauce
- 2 cups white wine
- 1 lemon, squeezed
- Creole seasoning like Tony Chachere's
For the roux:
- 2 tablespoons of canola oil
- 2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour
In a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, add the flour and oil to form a roux. Stir continuously until the roux reaches the color of coffee with milk or caramel.
Add the diced vegetables, stirring to mix, and sweat them until the onion becomes translucent.
Add the minced garlic, tomato sauce, wine, lemon juice, and Creole seasoning to taste.
Cover, and cook over low heat for an hour.
Add the carp, gently stir to mix, and cover. Cook for 30 minutes.
Serve over rice with a nice green salad, and enjoy!
Though carp isn’t popular as a sportfish or as dinner in America, there’s no reason to ignore it should you catch one.
Drawn from clean water where food is plentiful, carp are delicious. And with many ways to prepare it that your family will love, there’s no reason to give it a pass!
If you still don’t think you’d give it a try, just take a look at this video:
More on carp: Do Carp Eat Other Fish?