Asian silver carp were originally imported from Southeast Asia to help catfish farms in Arkansas keep retention ponds clean. Flooding allowed these fish to escape into the Mississippi River system and migrate into the Missouri and Illinois rivers. They are now dominating these ecosystems, and heading for the Great Lakes. That’s the bad news. The good news is they are delicious.
The Hopkins family of Ledbetter, Kentucky until recently was four generations of fishermen, now they are three. They call themselves RCB, standing for Ronnie, Charlie and Brian. Ronnie is the founder, Charlie, the son, and Brian, the grandson. ”Our family values and tradition matter and we believe in feeding people the right way. Just as our great-granddad did is just as we do. That’s how we feel. Our family is beyond blood – it is the communities of the Kentucky and Ohio rivers of which we fish and those who eat our fish. It is our world and that’s why we want to help feed it right.”
Sean Dimin paid a visit to the Hopkins boys. “Ronnie met up with me the other week in Ledbetter and took me out fishing along with a deckhand named Casey. We trailer-ed a skiff out to Lake Barkley which is a dammed section of river and set 14 gill-nets each about 100 yards long and 5ft deep. The lake was only 12 or 13ft at its deepest, clear and clean, surrounded by federally preserved land. After soaking for a few hours and having some food around a campfire we began to haul the nets. Ronnie (along with his son Charles in another boat) were trying to target 5,000lbs of Silver (Asian) Carp for a particular order. A Kentucky State Fish and Wildlife warden jumped aboard about 3AM to measure and weigh fish throughout the haul for data collection. The fish were so thick that we overshot by a tad, catching nearly 7,000lbs of Silvers. Charles’ boat had the same ‘problem’ “.
”When we got off the water in the morning and headed back to the shop to unload I saw the little plant in action with about 15 employees setting up a line for processing the fish. We had iced throughout the night and the fish were pristine aside from some external bruising. What I saw on the processing line was awesome and inspiring.”
“There is little current demand for silver carp. Part of the problem is the bone structure on the fish for processing and part of the problem is the lack of markets. After tasting both fish I can solidly say the problem is not the taste nor texture one bit. Believe me, the fish is surprisingly delicious.”
To make the most of an undervalued fish RCB is finding ways to use of every part with zero waste. First the fish is gutted (fertilized wood chips/sawdust for agriculture), then head and tail come off (sold for fish oils/lipstick), bellies are removed (exported to Asian markets), then the fillets are taken off. Nothing is left at the end for the gurry bin.
RCB has asked us to help them build more markets for their catch. Early adopters Peter Hoffman in NYC’s Back Forty, Bun Lai in New Haven’s Miya Sushi, University of Colorado CS, and Vanderbilt are all reporting very positive feedback. We think this is a great opportunity for chefs everywhere to delight diners by telling an important story with great tasting fish.
All the best,
from the Dimin Family and the Sea to Table team