The Baked, the Jewish, and the Chinese: Three Ideas for Cooking Carp

by Aleksei Morozov

Do you eat Carp? In Europe, the Common Carp has been farmed since the Roman Empire. The practice became especially widespread in the Middle Ages, as the Church required the believers to abstain from meat on Wednesdays, Fridays, and fasting times, creating a huge market for fish. The Carp, well adapted to small freshwater lakes, including watermill reservoirs and castle moats, where it could be fed with leftovers from the flour production and castle inhabitants’ meals, was a perfect answer. In fact, despite competition from modern deep-freezing technologies, the Carp farms still flourish, satisfying the needs for both sport fishing and the table. 

Whole carp ready for the oven

In North America, however, the situation is different. Both the European and Asian Carp found in American waters, while being very popular objects of bowfishing, are considered by many anglers not simply as invasive, but as “trash fish”. The US Fish and Wildlife Service, which encourages American anglers to eat more Carp, in the hope that it would boost Carp fishing, claims that most Americans don’t eat Carp because of the species’ feeding habits. This sounds more like an excuse than like a real reason: you don’t want to know what the Catfish and the Crayfish feed on, either, and yet both are cornerstones of Southern cuisine. 

In fact, if there’s one reason not to eat Carp, it’s that the fish is rather bony. But there are ways to counteract it, and, well, since there’s no such thing as a catch-and-release Carp fishing in America, for those who aren’t comfortable with the idea of simply dumping perfectly edible fish, here are three recipes that might change the way you look at Carp. 

Deboning Carp

The bones that make the Carps a pain to eat are concentrated on the upper part of the filet. Start with filleting the Carp. Take the filet and separate the part below the lateral line. This part contains zero small bones. Look carefully at the inside of the remaining part. You will notice that it can be naturally divided into the upper and the lower part itself. Make a cut separating these parts. The lower part, again, will have few bones, which can be easily removed. The upper part can be thrown away, or deboned with the help of tongs. 

Eating the Carp, when baked whole or cooked in steaks, should follow the same sequence. The flesh of the Carp is very soft, and leaves the bones easily. Start from below the lateral line, then separate the remains in two, and eat the lower of the parts. Then you can nibble carefully between the bones of the upper part.

Whole Baked Carp

This is my personal favorite for its simplicity. Gut and clean the fish; you may leave the scales on; in fact, some recipes insist on it, as it keeps the juice in better, but do remove the gills! Some cooks also suggest making a few cuts across the fish and inserting slices of lemon in each, as shown on the photo; I don’t, because I usually try to keep the skin intact and my wife hates the taste of lemon in fish. Fill in the cavity with spices, apply salt on the outside, place on baking paper and put into an oven, pre-heated to 180o C / 350F. An average fish will be ready in 40 minutes to an hour; leave it under a layer of foil for a few minutes for even better taste. 

Jewish styled

Jewish Style Carp

The traditional Jewish cuisine is unthinkable without “Gefilte Fish”, a stuffed and jellied fish, and this Carp recipe combines both technologies. In some sources it’s listed as “Poached Rabbi”. It’s a bit complicated, but will result in a beautiful dish well suited for a special occasion. You’ll need at least two Carp. One of them, after cleaning and gutting, you cut into steaks, about an inch thick. The other is fileted, deboned, and minced. Mix the mince with spices, bread crumbs soaked in milk, butter and egg, stir well, fill in the cavities in the stake with the mixture. 

At this stage, I’m tempted to dump the filled-in steaks with batter and deep-fry, but the traditional recipe calls for boiling them in a warm company of carrots, celery, and parsnip, as well as all that remained of the fishes after processing (heads, tails, fins, etc. – they’re necessary to make the broth strong enough for jellifying), as well as laurel leaves and other spices to your taste. Put the remains and the vegs on the bottom of the pot, place the stakes carefully over them, add cold water and boil for about an hour. Then fish out the steaks, put them in a deep bowl, add a few raisins and flaked almonds, and fill the bowl with filtered broth. Let cool, and then put in the fridge; the dish is ready to be served as soon as the broth jellifies. 

sliced carp filet

Chinese Style Deep-Fried Carp

Since the Carp in North America are mostly Asian, it’s only natural to turn for inspiration to Oriental cuisines. Clean and gut the fish, remove the tail, head, and the backbone along with the ribs through a vertical cut. Lay the fish flat meaty side up, take your sharpest knife, and make a series of cuts through the filet, spaced about half an inch apart, as shown on the picture above. This will destroy the smaller bones and make them a non-issue. You can cook the filet whole, or cut it to desired size; cover in batter or beaten egg and crumbs or flour, and deep-fry. Serve with sour-sweet sauce.

I usually cook by inspiration, and seldom follow the recipes literally, so I hope you’ll excuse me for not providing precise lists of ingredients. You can always find them on the Internet. The recipes above are meant mostly to stir your imagination. Try a Carp cooked right, and it will change the way you think about the fish forever. Just thinking about them makes my mouth watery, so now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll go and find my Carp fishing trip on

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