|Image courtesy of Treehugger.com|
A few days ago, a guy named John Goss passed through town, bearing one of the coolest job titles around: Asian carp director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
Goss was here to talk about the encroaching menace that is the flying Asian carp, those mean-spirited aquatic terrors that fling themselves out of the water and attack boaters and water skiers. They are becoming a serious threat, and he is proposing a serious solution that is part Rachael Ray, part zombie movie: When faced with an intractable enemy, eat them.
As the old saying goes, "When life gives you slimy, voracious, bug-eyed monsters, make slimy, voracious, bug-eyed monsterade."
Goss wants to start marketing the invasive fish to China, and perhaps even to Americans.
Coincidentally, according to a story out of Tokyo, the Japanese have begun doing the same with their own invasive species: catfish. You can now buy catfish burgers on street corners, and catfish with red beans and rice. The story called them "potentially delicious pests."
One person's invasive species is another's signature dish.
I wondered how carp would play on the Minnesota palate and psyche. I asked several people who they think of when they see the Asian carp. Answers ranged from Adm. Ackbar of "Star Wars" to artist Frida Kahlo. I see an upside-down Jack Black.
But don't tell that to Reggie McLeod, editor/publisher of Winona-based Big River Magazine. He has held two Carp Connoisseur Challenges, seeking carp recipes, and is planning a third.
So far, sadly, he hasn't had a single entry.
That didn't stop McLeod from hosting a carp feast where his colleagues brought everything from smoked carp to a Thai stir-fry and a Greek soup.
"They were very good," he said.
While common carp are fatty and hold a strong taste, Asian carp are mild and flaky, not unlike cod or walleye. "It's just cultural prejudices," he said.
McLeod is excited about a rumor that a restaurant in Trempealeau, Wis., added carp to its menu. But, of course, that's western Wisconsin. They'll eat anything. Cheese curds and pickled herring are considered gourmet (gore-met).
But how might a big-city chef prepare and market such "potentially delicious pests" as flying carp? Sell the carp story to the table, says Lenny Russo of Heartland restaurant in St. Paul.
"Have the waiter tell them they are popular in Europe and Asia and were called the fish of kings," said Russo. You could also use guilt -- save our rivers, eat carp.
Russo, who recently sold out a "fried pig's ear salad," might soak the carp in buttermilk and roll it in cornmeal before cooking, then serve it over a bed of slaw: "I think you'd have a real winner there."
Hell's Kitchen seems a natural fit for the monster.
Owner Mitch Omer -- surprise -- sent me a philosophical treatise on the subject, titled "Carpe Diem, Seize the Carp."
"The Chinese live 6 years longer, and have 1,024,453,450 more people than we do," he wrote. "See where I'm going here? That means that the Chinese, on average, live 6,146,720,700 more years than we do. They don't get there by frequenting the drive-thru. They do it by eating fish. Lots of fish. And for more than a millennium, they've been doing it by eating this fish, the Asian carp. Although I don't think they call it Asian carp in China. That would be like us calling it "the United States salmon."
Environmentalists can gripe, Omer says.
"Me, I'm going to motor down the river with a $17 net and fill my stringer."