Restaurant News & Reviews

No ordinary fish, Asian carp surprises chefs and diners with its versatility

Chef Chris Smith at Table Three Ten in Lexington will prepare a special farm-to-table dinner featuring Asian silver carp from Western Kentucky and the catch-of-the-day from sustainable fishmonger Kelly Probst, who will be at the dinner on Aug. 25.
Chef Chris Smith at Table Three Ten in Lexington will prepare a special farm-to-table dinner featuring Asian silver carp from Western Kentucky and the catch-of-the-day from sustainable fishmonger Kelly Probst, who will be at the dinner on Aug. 25. palcala@herald-leader.com

The next farm-to-table dinner at Table Three Ten will leave the land for the sea and the lake. Owner Daniel Marlowe will feature the wares of fishmonger Kelly Probst, who isw scheduled to be at the Farm Dinner on Aug. 25.

But they won’t be serving ordinary fish.

“We are different. We supply ‘weird,’” Probst said. “We specialize in sustainably caught, sustainably sourced or bycatch items.”

Bycatch is fish that weren’t what the fishermen meant to catch, Probst said. And it’s often something people tend to think is … less than appetizing.

Probst, who pursued his master’s degree in Kentucky State University’s aquaculture program, has researched a lot of fish. And often what people think about a fish doesn’t match how it tastes.

“As a graduate student, I was curious, and I went and ate everything: carp, gar. … Some of it was disgusting, but some stuff was delicious,” he said. “The number one thing has been these carp.”

He doesn’t mean the native, bottom-feeding carp, but the Asian carp that have invaded Kentucky’s lakes and waterways, the ones often seen making spectacular leaps out of the water as a boat goes by. Those are surface-feeders that eat the same zooplankton and phytoplankton that native bass, bluegill and crappie eat, Probst said.

The silver Asian carp can outcompete the young native fish, driving down their numbers. And the carp get huge, much bigger than the 5 pounds they achieve in their own native waters.

“Here, … they grow like crazy,” Probst said. “It’s not uncommon to catch 40- to 50-pound fish; most are around 20 pounds.”

That makes for a fish that is surprisingly versatile and appealing, once chefs and diners get past their preconceptions.

“When we bring it to chefs, we say, ‘Get a knife; try it raw,’” Probst said. “And every time they say, ‘It’s so clean!’ … Chefs say it’s very versatile on the grill. As sashimi, raw, it’s very clean, with no muddy or fishy flavor. Pleasant on the palate. When you cook it, it’s very firm, almost tunalike, but with a nice flake. It cooks up extremely white. … Our only challenge is trying to get people to try it.”

Probst works with Fin Gourmet out of Paducah, which specializes in the carp. Owners Lula Luu and John Crilly moved to Kentucky from New Orleans because of the easy accessibility to the carp. They buy the carp from “Captain Ronnie,” who fishes daily in Lake Barkley.

“It comes in at 7 in the morning and is out to the restaurants that afternoon,” Luu said.

That freshness, and their ability to produce a bone-free filet of the meaty fish, has created a growing market in Kentucky and elsewhere, she said, and that has helped them create jobs for people who need second chances, including those recovering from addiction.

Right now they are delivering about 1,000 pounds of carp fillets (and 3,000 pounds of surimi, or fish paste, often sold in the U.S. as imitation crab) a week. By the end of the year, they expect to add a second shift and more than double capacity. The expansion is possible because they have worked to build a market for this fish that nobody seemed to want.

In Lexington, Fin Gourmet and Kelly n’ Kris Seafood work with Table Three Ten, Lockbox, Holly Hill Inn and Smithtown Seafood, among others.

Crilly said they hope to sell their carp at Good Foods Co-op soon and are working with a distributor in Nashville.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity for us,” he said. “We see this as another Kentucky Proud product we can showcase internationally, like the bourbon industry. This is very much a unique Kentucky product.”

If you go

Table Three Ten’s next Farm Dinner is 7 p.m. Aug. 25. The menu will feature the catch of the day from Kris N’ Kelly Seafood from Ponce Inlet, Fla., and Kentucky carp from Fin Gourmet in Paducah. It’s $65 a person, plus tax and tip. For reservations, call 859-309-3901.

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