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Saturday, February 6, 2016

Carpe - Carp, the Fish on French Menus. Smoked Carp, Fried Carp, Carp Sausages and More.

Carpe, Carpe Commune  -  Carp, Common Carp.
Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman.

Near to rivers and streams nearly every restaurant in France will have carp on the menu. Carp is popular and inexpensive, but not always on the menu in big city fish restaurants where they generally want more expensive fish on their menus.
Not only the French diners love carp, but carp are also among the most popular fish for French anglers who are happy when they catch a 12-kilo (26 LB) carp even though they know that rarer 20 kilo (44 lb) and 25 kilo (55 lb) specimens are out there.
17 kilo (38 lb) carp ready to be returned to the lake.
The carp on restaurant menus are usually 3-4 kilos (6 - 9 lb) fish that come to the table from fish-farms.  Fish farms with carp are found all over France with the most well-known  in the Alsace in the North, in the Dombes in the department of Ain in the region of the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes and those grown in the many lakes of Limousin.
Photograph courtesy of Lee.
Carpe on French menus:
Friture de Filets de Carpe, Sans Peau et Sans Arêtes aux 4 Sauces, Pommes Frites, Salade. – Fried filets of carp with the skin and bones removed, served with four sauces, French fried potatoes and a salad.  The southern part of the Alsace is famous for its traditional carp dishes, and fried carp will be on many menus.  This menu listing includes French fries; however, by tradition, you will usually have to order the French fries separately. N.B. Carp is a bony fish and you are well advised to order it fileted.
The menu listing above is clearly Alsatian and fried carp is the culinary specialty of Sundgau, a small southern region of Alsace. This particular region has some 40 restaurants who specialize in traditional carp dishes. The tourist information office offers a map with a carp restaurant route. You may also join the Alsace Wine route de vins that runs close by and in the restaurants combine the wine with the fish.
The Tourist Information of Office of Sundgau has a website.  Click on the Union Jack,  in the upper left-hand corner, for English.
Salade de Carpe Fumée Maison – A salad served with home-made smoked carp. Smoked carp is popular  and is available in supermarkets all over France.
Filet de Carpe Sauce à l'Oseille. A filet of carp served with a sorrel  sauce.  Sorrel has a light lemony flavor, and that makes it a popular herb to use in fish dishes.
A baked carp filet with a herb crust served on glazed beetroot with cabbage and a chive foam.
Boudin de Carpe aux Ėcrevisses et Crème au Lard Fumé. – Carp sausages, made with minced carp, served with a creamy shrimp sauce and smoked bacon.

Freshly smoked carp ready for the lunch-time customers.
Filet de Carpe “des Dombes “  Vapeur, Sauce Crustacés.  – A steamed filet of carp from the Dombes served with a shellfish sauce.
The Dombes which combine fish farming, as well as agriculture also has a bird sanctuary.  There is a French-language website, and using Bing or Google translate apps makes the website easily understood.

Salade de Carpe Fume, Lentilles du Berry, Fromage Frais de Chèvre, Basilic. A salad of smoked carp served with the famous lentils of Berry along with fresh goat’s cheese flavored with basil. This dish is from the old province of Berry, now the departments of Cher and Indre, in the Loire Valley.
In Berry, the chefs take full advantage of the freshwater fish from the National Park of Brenne. The park has over 1,000 fresh water ponds as well as freeing-running streams, lakes and fresh water fish-farms.  From here comes fresh carp, pike, eels, pike-perch, freshwater perch and frogs.
The Parc Naturel Régional de la Brenne has a French language website. With the Bing or Google translate apps the site is excellent:
Goujonnettes de Carpe Frites à l’Huile de Pépins de Raisin, sur Lit de Verdure – Tiny carp and small pieces of carp fried in oil made from grape pits served on a bed of vegetables. Goujonnettes can be any small fish and if a restaurant is not sure which fish they are serving they are often translated as whitebait. In France, any small sea fish, or freshwater fish, used for a fish soup or served as part of a petite friture, a fry up of small fish, may be called a goujon. Here, at least,  you know they are serving small carp.
Carpe a la Juive  - Carp in the Jewish Manner. This dish is carp filets lightly fried with onions and herbs and served in the restaurants of the Alsace as a cold entrée. The dish was originally created by the Alsatian Jews for their Sabbath when no cooking was permitted. Though the large Jewish population of the Alsace ended with WWII, this recipe is still enjoyed, and will be on many Alsatian restaurant menus. Carp is also the main component of the Jewish dish called Gefilte Fish,

Then there is Taramasalata, one of the most well-known dishes in traditional Greek mezes.  Taramasalata should be a light beige to light pink creamy mixture of salted and cured carp roe, olive oil, garlic, onion, lemon juice and breadcrumbs. Initially gray mullet roe was used but that was changed to carp roe when gray mullet roe became too expensive.    When you see bright pink versions of taramasalata then you know that food coloring has been added to the roe of a fish that is almost certainly neither a gray mullet nor carp roe.
 I was told, in a Greek restaurant in France, that formerly taramasalata was only served during the Christian holiday of Lent when meat was not eaten. Traditions, however, do change and tourists to Greece and diners in Greek restaurants in France look for Taramasalata.  Now taramasalata is available all year round inside and outside Greece.

Fish farming, including carp, began in China in 2,500 BCE and Egypt farmed tilapia from 1,500 BCE.  Nevertheless, the 5th century BCE was probably the time the Romans began commercially farming fish though wealthy Romans has had their own sea water and fresh water fish ponds long before.  When the Romans occupied France in 121 BCE  along with the trees,  fruits, vines for grapes, public baths and  aqueducts they brought fish farms. Following the Frankish victory in the 5th century CE a large part of France came under the rule of the Merovingians, the first kings of France. However, there is no extant reference to fish farming under the Merovingian’s.
For France and elsewhere the first modern commercially productive fish farms only became important from the mid-twentieth century. The carp that the Romans brought to France are the ancestors of the wild carp now in French rivers and streams. Those wild carp are now considered a pest in many rivers as they damage the eco-system for other fish.
Koi (or Japanese) carp are the extremely expensive ornamental carp so highly valued in Japan and China. These ornamental carp are the same species as the common carp on the menu listings above and for over 2,000 years they have been bred for their unique colors and markings.            

Koi carp
Common carp are members of large family with other members of the family on the menu in other parts of Europe and Asia. One member of the carp family is on offer in all pet shops; that is the goldfish, it is the smallest member of the carp family.

The smallest member of the carp family.

(Catalan -  carpa), (Dutch – karr). (German – karpfe, karpen, weissfische, wildkarpfen).  (Italian- carpa), (Spanish - carpa), (Latin -  cyprinus carpio carpio).


The regions of France:

From 2016 France has reduced the number of regions from 27 to 18.  Now there are 13 mainland regions, including Corsica and five overseas regions/departments. The names to be used must, by law, be changed by July 2016. Despite the legal requirements for these name changes there are many arguments and the final names will probably not be ready for quite a while.

Bryan G. Newman

Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2016.

For information on the unpublished book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman

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