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Howard's End: A Recipe For Koi Carp

The Holmes Show last night carried a story about how koi carp, an introduced fish species, were seen by our Department of Conservation as such a pest that they were described as the possum of the waterways. So why aren't we selling or even giving them to the Japanese and Chinese who prize them as a delicacy? John Howard writes.

We were told on the Holmes Show that there is no New Zealand market for koi carp and New Zealanders apparently won't eat them. Yet the Japanese and Chinese treasure them as a delicacy and can't get enough of them. The carp is an indigenous fish of China, Japan and Siberia.

Where the mighty flood of the Yangtze River rushes 32 kilometers into the East China Sea, an astonishing maze of tributaries, creeks, rivers, lakes, ponds and marshlands twist, shimmering between endless fields of rice and vegetables, growing a rich crop of carp and other freshwater table fish.

It's not for nothing that the Chinese call the Yangtze Delta the Land of Fish and Rice. To the north of the Yangtze River lies the province of Jiangsu where more than sixty million people await the daily freshwater catch.

To the north, the south and the west of the Yangtze Delta, live hundreds of millions of people and in the centre, is the immense industrial powerhouse of the city of Shanghai.

Throughout China a whole steamed or baked fish is the traditional final dish at a formal banquet signifying to the guests that although twelve courses of rich culinary delights have already been consumed, there is still plenty more to eat if they are hungry.

Chinese chefs have been conducting a love affair with freshwater fish for longer than history can record. It is a feeling in China still ardently expressed in every province in the land. Over 3,000 kilometers up the Yangtze freshwater fish is a daily feature on Yunnan menus and fish, albeit salted, is a treasured item even in the remote Gobi.

In fact, if it swims, crawls, scrambles, has gills or lives in water, it is guaranteed a pride of place on the Chinese menu. And it has been so for thousands of years.

I'm not sure we understand just how seriously our Asian neighbours treat their humble freshwater carp which we describe as a pest. It has been a saviour in times of China's sorrows.

I'm not being precious when I ask by what right do we insult a people with a heritage thousands of years old by describing on national television their indigenous fish as a pest which they treasure? We could now save face by offering as many as they like to take as a gift for our insult. Afterall, they're an imported pest, aren't they, and we don't want them?

But If you catch some freshwater carp in one of our rivers here is a recipe for Carp with Sichuan Hot Bean Sauce. Don't throw the carp back because under our current laws you could be fined up to $100,000.

4 - 6 small whole carp (about 200gm each)
3/4 cup of oil for frying
3 cloves of garlic
1 and 1/2 tablespoons of hot chilli bean sauce (supermarkets have it)
1 spring onion

Seasoning sauce

3/4 cup water or fish stock
1 tablespoon brown vinegar
1 tablespoon rice wine or dry sherry
1 pickled red chilli (chopped)
2 - 3 slices fresh ginger - (chopped)
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 and 1/2 teaspoons cornflour


Clean the fish and rinse in cold water and dry thoroughly. Heat a wok with half the oil to smoking point and fry half the fish until lightly browned on both sides. Repeat with the other half of oil and fish and keep warm on a plate.

Pour out any residue oil, rinse the wok, then return about 2 tablespoons of the oil. Stir-fry the garlic briefly, then add the bean sauce and stir-fry for about 40 seconds. Add the pre-mixed seasoning sauce ingredients and bring to the boil, stirring constantly.

Slide the fish into the sauce, reduce heat, cover and simmer gently for about 20 minutes. Splash a little more water from time to time if it begins to dry up during cooking.

Use a wide spatula to transfer the fish onto a serving plate, stacking them together in the same direction. Scatter the spring onion over the fish and pour on the sauce. Serve immediately.

No, freshwater carp should not be seen in New Zealand as just a pest. Treated and cooked properly in a dozen different ways, it is a delicious high protein food and it could be a new export industry just staring us in the face. Afterall, aren't we supposed to be desperately looking for exports and jobs for our people?

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