Don’t Carp About Your Cold Turkey

Don’t Carp About Your Cold Turkey

You’ve had it cold, you’ve had it curried, you’ve had it in a pie and you’ve had it in a soup. But there’s half a turkey carcass taking up most of the space in the fridge and threatening to make a break for freedom.

But it could be worse. Some countries never took to mutant chicken. In Turkey itself, it is known as the American Bird; and in most of eastern Europe, the Christmas dish comes with fins, not feathers.

For millions Christmas means carp – a monster fish that waddles around the bottom of lakes rooting around in the mud and putting on weight. It may come from the same family as the goldfish, but this is definitely the XXL, super-sized version. Even an anorexic specimen will weigh in at over 20lbs.

In Champagne, when they are not busy downing bottles of Bolly, they are fishing their lakes for monster mirror carp, capable of bulking up to over 60lbs.

It’s an extraordinarily tough beast, able to survive in waters ranging from minus 1c up to 30c. They originated in the Far East, and remain a delicacy in China and Japan. It was the Japanese that developed the koi carp into a must for every design-conscuious garden.

The European carp was pounced upon by the Romans who recognised it as an easy source of food to rear for their ever-expanding armies. (They brought rabbit to England for similar reasons).

Every monastery in Europe had its fish pond, and most were stocked with carp. The Roman Catholic ban on eating meat on Fridays led to the widespread habit of substituting fish. And the easiest source of fish if you are not near the sea, is the nearest pond.

English supermarkets have been selling carp this Christmas – but it has been heavily discounted. It may look good on the fishmonger’s slab, but the enthusiasm dies as the cook searched for recipes. We just don’t seem interested in eating it in Britain.

It was a standard dish for Victorians, and Mrs Beeton has several recipes. But in the last century it became hugely popular with fisherman who loved to pit their wits against one of the most angler-savvy fresh water fish.

However, anglers return their catches to lakes, and over time the best fish became known to them , and often acquire names. And once christened, no fisherman can bear the idea of cooking what could be old Mirror Mary or Billy Three Scales. They would no more eat carp than their pet dog or favourite budgie.

So they have spread word they are inedible. Just about the most popular recipe in the English speaking world calls for the the fish to be fastened to a plank of wood, cooked over an open fire, and then thrown away while the plank is served as the tastier alternative.

In countries such as Germany, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Hungary and Poland great barrels of carp are set up on street corners in late December. A constant trickle of water aerates the vats, and then spills over the side onto the pavement where it freezes overnight, boosting business at local fracture clinics.

The carp are taken home and, traditionally, kept in the bath for a few days to clear their systems of mud. It is claimed that water consumption rockets ion the run up to December 25 as baths are filled across the fish-eating nations.

They can be roasted with sweet red peppers, basil and paprika; or with onions, caraway and cumin; casseroled with rice, parsley and lemon juice, or steamed in a wok with spring onions, fresh ginger and Thai fish stock.

But, whichever way they are cooked, a 60lb fish is still going to mean cold left overs until some time in February.

All of a sudden, a 15lb turkey looks like a quick snack.

Samantha is an expert Research and Theatre consultant. She is currently writing for Show and Stay and is very excited about the upcoming West End revival of Oliver!