The common carp is a heavy-bodied minnow with barbells on either side of the upper jaw. Typically, colour varies from brassy green or yellow, to golden brown, or even silvery. The belly is usually yellowish-white. The dorsal fin with 17-21 rays, and the anal fin both have a heavy toothed spine. Individuals 12-25 inches in length and weighing up to 8-10 pounds are common, although they can grow much larger. Common carp may live in excess of 47 years and weigh over 75 pounds.
Edible carp are all the same genus and species, Cyprinus carpio, although some selectively bred fish are known as King carp. The domestic Mirror carp and Chinese Hi-goi are named for the quality of their scales, as their taste varies little. Recently introduced varieties include the Bighead grass, which has fewer bones. Carp is available live, fresh, or frozen, either split lengthwise or filleted.
Buying and storing tips
Quality carp is easy to recognize. Fresh carp never smells fishy, and the eyes should appear bright and clear, almost alive. The gills should be reddish, and the skin moist and with tightly adhering, shiny scales. Fresh carp flesh will give slightly when you press it with a finger, then springs back into shape. When choosing carp steaks or fillets, whether they’re fresh or previously frozen, look for moist, translucent (never dried out) flesh. Keep carp cool on the trip from the market to your house. Never let it stay un-refrigerated for long.
To store carp, remove packaging, rinse under cold water, and pat dry with paper towels. Fish deteriorates when it sits in its own juices, so place it on a cake rack in a shallow pan filled with crushed ice. Cover with cling wrap or foil and set in the coldest part of the refrigerator. Carp will store well this way for up to two days. When well wrapped, carp can be frozen for up to two months in a refrigerator freezer and for three to four months in a deep-freeze. Use lined freezer paper, and wrap the fish tightly from head to tail with at least two layers of paper.
To thaw slowly, unwrap the fish, place in pan, cover, and leave for 24 hours in the refrigerator. To thaw faster, place the whole fish (wrapped in a watertight bag) in a sink with cool running water, allowing about 30 minutes per pound (450g). For fastest thawing, use the defrost cycle of your microwave, allowing 2 to 5 minutes per pound (450g), with equal standing time in between zaps (as one minute defrost to one minute resting).
Preparation, uses, and tips
Because carp has large scales that are embedded in the skin, the fish must be skinned. To remove skin, take a sharp knife and cut the skin off in strips, or dip fish in boiling water for 25 seconds, rub the skin off, and cool under running water.
To remove the head, cut through the flesh on both sides with a knife. If the fish is small, slice directly through the spine. For a larger fish, place the knife between vertebrae and tap the back of the knife with a hammer.
To fillet, use a sharp, thin knife. With the carp lying on its side, insert the knife behind the gills, and cut in an arc down to just above the backbone. Continue cutting parallel to the backbone toward the tail. Bring the knife up at the tail and remove the fillet.
To make steaks, place the carp on its side. With a sharp knife, cut slices 3/4 to 1/2-inch (1.9 to 1.25cm) thick perpendicular to the spine. Tap the back of the blade with a wooden mallet to cut through the spine.
The secret to successful carp cookery is to not overcook. Whichever of the following cooking methods you choose, your carp will be cooked when the flesh becomes opaque but is still moist on the inside.
Carp can be cooked using most methods including baking, broiling, frying, and poaching.
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