Grass carp are often left out of angler’s mindsets for a number of reasons, but what these inexperienced anglers don’t realize is that carp (and grass carp in particular) are not only fun to catch: they can prove to be an exquisite meal if prepared correctly.
This is a win-win for anglers, and this article will be sure to teach you how to obtain the fish, how to clean it, and ultimately how to cook it in a number of different ways.
You’ll be preparing this fish like a professional chef in no time, and you’ll find that this is the optimal way to eat food according to your pallet.
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Quite often eating prepared foods can prove to not be the best that it can be, and when you make it yourself you know that you are getting exactly what you want according to your taste and other preferences. Isn’t that what everybody wants?
The term “trash fish” is often used with many fish that prove to be delicacies in other countries for a reason: it’s because sometimes the rest of the world just hasn’t realized the huge potential that the fish (in this case the grass carp) have to be part of human diets as well as our ecosystems.
Grass carp are native to Asia, and they were introduced in the US and other countries strategically to help combat invasive aquatic weeds.
Grass carp were initially introduced into the California wild, and they instantly started to combat these invasive weeds. So it is not surprising that others adopted this method of using the fish to help the ecosystem, and this has made the fish widespread throughout the world.
You may be wondering why this is important, and this is concerning to us because there are genetically modified grass carp that are deployed to help combat this problem have been genetically engineered so that they are sterile and they can’t reproduce.
This makes the rules around grass carp a bit elusive and confusing, so be sure to check out your own state or country’s particular rules and regulations on these sterile or “triploid” grass carp.
Anglers who intend to cook their grass carp must search for “diploid” (or non-sterile) grass carp because there are way less regulations on this type of fish itself.
This is largely because the diploid type actually reproduces and can therefore regenerate its own population (whereas the triploid grass carp can’t).
There is however only a slight genetic alteration made so the triploid type doesn’t often taste bad, but the restrictions are just often much more strict so I wanted to bring that up so you don’t run into any legal issues when catching grass carp and removing them from the water to eat!
How To Obtain And/Or Catch Grass Carp For Cooking
The first method of obtaining your grass carp for cooking is simple and less fun (but quite often more practical): you go to your local supermarket or fish market and you buy the carp pre-prepared and ready to cook.
This method works great because you know the fish is legal, and you know that it is fresh and safe to eat (depending on the smell, you should pass if the stench is strong enough to warrant concern).
And quite often, the fish will be pre-prepared for you so you know that you don’t have to scale the fish and remove the organs before actually cooking it. Avoiding the dirty work is a definite plus here.
These are all great reasons. And for some of us it really works out a lot better. But for the anglers that want to catch what their eating, we know there are tons of reasons why we do so.
There are also problems with the method of purchasing grass carp in particular, and you might only be able to find it if you live in a city that has a multinational supermarket or a fish market.
Using some simple logic we know that consuming fish is also much more important in Asian and other cultures, so you’ll find that these fish will be found around places where there are people who really want to eat them. Pretty simple, right?
If you live in a place like the Midwest in the US (where there are often a lack of super markets in places labeled “food deserts” anyways) or somewhere similarly remote, then you might just be out of luck unless you are of course catching it yourself.
It is largely not realized by many people that grass carp (and other carp) aren’t harder to clean than other common types of fish, and as long as we know what we’re doing it really isn’t hard to do at all!
How to catch a grass carp is a question that isn’t asked enough among anglers, and quite frankly this fish is often regarded as useless “trash fish” when it comes to catching and cooking.
Knowing where these carp are located and what they eat is half the battle of catching them, and thankfully the name helps initially direct us to where these fish are located. Not surprisingly, it’s quite often in the grass!
This aquatic vegetation commonly referred to as “weeds” are a nuisance to all anglers, except when the fish that you are seeking lives here or commonly frequents such a place (whether it is to sun bathe in shallow waters or it is to eat when the tide is high).
The fact that these are called trash fish is simply not true. But the fact that you are seeking out reasons why this isn’t true is really enlightening and more importantly it’s going to give you the upper hand when it comes to angling for them and then ultimately eating them.
We catch this type of carp in typically high tides or other scenarios where there is not a lot of water that is covering aquatic vegetation and grassy areas. We typically call this part of the river (or body of water in general) the weeds, and that really is where we are going to find them.
Grass carp take to these grounds when the water rises during lower tides, and they really love this section because there’s not a lot of water, so ultimately, there’s not a lot going on!
Grass carp also take to these grounds when the water rises during higher tides, and they really love this section because there’s not a lot of action happening and there’s not a whole lot going on!
In these scenarios, the grass carp can just do what they want to do which is basically just relax, eat some vegetation, and really just hang out.
There are a number of methods of catch grass carp, and these methods largely revolve around using a number of different homemade or purchased carp baits.
Knowing which carp baits will work even better to catch grass carp will give you the upper hand when you start angling for these too often forgotten fish, and now that you know where the grass carp frequent and what their tendencies are you are half-way to catching your first grass carp!
There are two optimal weather scenarios to catch grass carp.
A common theme among grass carp anglers (and all carp for that matter) is the technique to fish during and/or directly after a period of warm rain. This is a general trick for anglers of any fish, and sometimes you will find that carp anglers argue that this is in fact not the case.
Another common theme revolves around the fact that these fish are primarily in the weeds for two things: food, and sunshine.
Animals of all sorts bask in the sun, and grass carp are definitely big-time sun bathers. So this optimal scenario would involve a sunny day, and water that is either shallow at low tide or is still at a high or ebbing tide.
We’ve discussed this a bit already, so I just wanted to take the time to make a quick note of this discrepancy. Just know that both of these camps have their legitimate reasoning and successes so let’s just go ahead and say that both could work, and they both make their own solid arguments.
How To Prepare And Cook Grass Carp
Okay, here’s where we get serious about preparing and cooking our grass carp. Preparing and cooking grass carp often proves to be much less difficult than it actually sounds, and this can really surprise people!
Since people just assume that this is a trash fish it is then ultimately removed from the kitchens of people across the world.
And since our pallets become more inclined to prefer a white fish (cod, haddock, bass, etc.) we often discourage ourselves from reaching out and trying new things like grass carp.
Here’s a breakdown of how to clean the fish (including the proper scaling and filleting methods) and ultimately how to prepare and serve it.
1. Scaling a Grass Carp
Scaling a fish is often the part of the process that makes of weary of actually catching and eating our own fish. Scaling and dealing with the scales can prove to be a nuisance. But like doing anything for the first time, if you don’t know how to properly do it you’ll be less inclined to do such.
A 10 pounds grass carp will have scales that are roughly three-quarters of an inch in diameter, and these can be removed quite easily by scarping them off.
You’ll see that they aren’t too adhered to the body of the fish, so this makes it much easier to take them off than some other fish.
You’ll also see that the scales will fly around quite a bit, and as the scales shrivel up it makes them dry very quickly which then makes them harder to clean.
So if you’re doing this in the kitchen sink, be sure to block any possible way that they could clog your drains and clean the scales immediately before proceeding to the next part of the process.
2. Cutting and Gutting
This part is quite simple, and it proves that grass carp are indeed relatively easy to prepare.
First, cut from the vent up to the underside of the jaw and then once you get to the pelvic fins take a pair of kitchen shears and pull the innards out.
When you’re pulling out the insides, you’ll soon see that there is a big two chamber swim bladder.
Although it can be menacing at first glance, this part actually comes out quite easily.
The only part that proves to be relatively difficult to pull out is the fish’s grinding mechanism located in their throats (and as you can assume, this part is how the fish breaks down the food it eats before digestion).
Now that you’re ready to fillet the fish, know that the skin on this fish is extremely light and it really doesn’t affect the flavor of the fish like some other fish skins.
In short that means it isn’t necessary to remove the skin, and that can ultimately remove one step from the preparation process.
Thankfully the grass carp prove to be relatively easy to fillet once you have the hang of it.
You will find that the issue with carp is that they are so bony, and the easiest way to combat this right away is to fillet the flesh off from the ribs rather than cutting the fillets loose and dealing with the rib-cage attached to the fillet.
Since the bones are easy to follow, you can easily cut along with them as your guide. Carp bones are stuck in the fish and are quite often difficult to pull out.
That is why this part in the process is crucial, and once you have the majority of the bones removed it will become much easier to eat, and a pleasant eating experience we desire.
The skin as we have discussed doesn’t need to be removed because it is so mild, but if you do choose to remove it you can use a standard long knife and cutting board filleting method to do so.
Do not cut your fillets into smaller pieces initially as this will make it much more difficult to remove any spines (which then then ultimately become almost impossible to remove and thus it will prove to be quite frustrating).
4. Cooking a Grass Carp
Now that you have the fillets, know that these can be prepared like many other fish of comparable size. This means that you can cook grass carp using a number of different cooking methods, and we’ll discuss some of the most popular right now!
Like other larger fish, steaming a grass carp could possibly be the easiest option. It is firm enough to steam, and as long as you don’t steam the fish for too long (which will differ depending on the size) it will remain together and it won’t break up.
If you do steam it for a longer period of time and you find that it breaks up too much, you’ll find that it will still be fine and it will still be the same fish. Not a big problem, and you can master your own technique after experimenting a bit.
Again this is another common technique used for cooking larger fish, and it is no surprise to find that this could possibly be the tastiest method of cooking the fish.
Lightly cover the fillets with flour (rice flour in particular seems to work the best), and you’ll find that this is enough to give the outside of the fillet a nice crust that is crunchy and appetizing to anybody who loves to eat fish.
It seems a bit too simple, but then again it just is! Don’t overthink it! And if you want to prepare it in any certain ways with spices and herbs, definitely try experimenting according to your own preferred tastes.
Simple herbs like basil, oregano, thyme, sage, and others can definitely be used easily while steaming the fish in a bigger pot. Simply throw some leaves in and let their flavors absorb into the fillets, and let the steam do the hard work.
Simple spices like pepper, salt, coriander and others can definitely be used while steaming, but I would suggest using these while using the pan frying method.
You can add the ground pepper (or anything else) right into the flour, and you can put your spice and flour mixture on a plate or into a bowl. Then cover the fillets accordingly and you are set to throw them in the pan.
These herbs and spices will come in handy in our last method of cooking, so well jump right into that right now.
Soup And Stock:
Creating soups and stock with the grass carp could possibly be the most practical form of cooking this fish. Like anything, soup is the best way to make the most of just a little.
Sometimes we find that creating a fish stock (which is often the base of a fish soup or stew) uses certain parts of the fish that might go unused with traditional cooking methods.
We are of course talking about the heads, the fins, and the bones of the fish, and these are often even sold so people can create stock for their own families and/or restaurants.
With grass carp in particular you’ll find if you do make your own stock that the taste can either be bland or a little bit bitter. Doesn’t sounds great, does it?
You’ll often see bad reviews online about grass carp stock, but then it again it matters on who is making it and how it is spiced to offset any non-existent or bitter tastes.
We know that the fish lives on aquatic vegetation, and we know that the food we eat quite often tastes like the food that it eats. It’s pretty simple to understand that the fish is going to taste extremely earthy and perhaps even (appropriately worded) grassy in flavor and aroma.
So knowing this, you can explore a number of methods to offset very earthy and grassy tasting food items. I find that basil in particular adds the most flavor of any leafy herb, so I always am sure to throw a handful of basil into my grass carp stocks.
This isn’t to say that this is your only option. Of course it isn’t! And that’s the great part about experimenting yourself according to your own pallet. You may find something that you really like, and you can even share your recipes online with other anglers.
More vegetables will add to the earthy flavor, but it will only enhance it! Trust me, this is a definitely a great thing!
So whether you like to use onions, celery, spinach, etc. in your soup, you’ll find that the flavor of the soup is really going to be taken over (in the best way possible) if you do use a lot of onions or other strong flavored ingredients.
5. Serving And Garnishing A Grass Carp
This part is fairly simple, and we’ve all garnished a fish dinner before. Depending on your taste buds, serve the pan fried grass carp with tartar sauce (mayo and pickles combined can make a quick tartar sauce if you don’t have any), sliced lemon, and some parsley.
You can also get quite creative here too! And that’s the fun part about it. I like this traditional method but feel free to garnish the dish according to your pallet, and be sure complement the herbs and spices you’ve already used to flavor the fish.
There are also obviously numerous options for herbs, spices, and other seasonings. So here are just a handful more that I haven’t mentioned yet to get you brainstorming! There all legitimate options, so be sure to explore some combinations that fit to your own likings!
Tarragon, cilantro, fennel, marjoram, mint, bay leaf, summer savory, anise, parsley, chervil, rosemary, etc.
Cayenne pepper, curry powders, paprika, ginger, ground mustard, red pepper flakes (commonly referred to as crushed reds) etc.
Leek, garlic, orange and lime juice, mustard, wine, vinegar of all sorts, shallots, and other spice rubs and blends according to your taste (Lowry’s seasoned salt is a commonly used blend to name one popular one).
Final Thoughts and Conclusion
Eating grass carp is definitely a legitimate option, and according to your taste buds and the particular methods you learn to use you might find that you actually really like eating grass carp.
As noted their often bitter or extremely earthy and grassy flavors can offset people and deter them from ever trying it again. But you have to be weary of the bad reviews as this could largely be due to the particular fish and/or the preparation and cooking methods used.
So again, try these methods out for yourself and see what you really like the most. As noted I am always inclined to just panfry and serve it the traditional way (as I’ve mentioned), and I will often change up the spice and flour rub according to what I want to eat that specific day.