Illinoisans might notice something special in the air on Saturday. That would be the aroma from the statewide Asian Carp Cookout. Ted Penesis is the director of community outreach for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. His efforts were critical in organizing this inaugural event.
"Many people have probably heard of Asian carp and mostly in a negative connotation since it's an invasive species," he said, "but what people don't know is that it's a very healthy and tasty fish."
Penesis listed off the health benefits.
- High in protein
- High in omega-3
- High iron content
"The iron content is off the charts," he said, "which, of course, is important for women."
Moreover, he says it tastes great and described the flavor of this fish as "mild."
"The most important thing is to get people to try it," said Penesis. There are several cities participating in the cookout.
• Chicago, Logan Square: Unity Park, 2636 N. Kimball Ave. from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Asian carp tacos will be prepared by El Rancherito Restaurant
• Chicago, Lincoln Park: Dirk’s Fish & Gourmet Shop, 2070 N. Clybourn Ave. from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Asian carp burgers will be prepared and served by owner Dirk Fucik.
• Chicago, Pilsen: Open Books Chicago, 905 W 19th St. from 11:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Asian carp tacos will be prepared by Mole Village Mexican Restaurant.
• Peoria: Kelleher’s Restaurant, 619 SW Water St. from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. In partnership with the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission, Greater Peoria Economic Development Council and Distillery Labs, Kelleher’s will serve a chef’s choice of regular Asian carp daily specials.
• East Peoria: Levee District, 370 W Washington St. (tent near Target parking lot) from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. In partnership with the City of East Peoria, Tri-County Regional Planning Commission, Greater Peoria Economic Develop Council and Distillery Labs, a chef provided by Sorce Enterprises will prepare and serve Asian carp.
• Springfield: Carter’s Fish Market, 1900 S. Grand Ave. East from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Owner Clint Carter will prepare and serve Louisiana style Asian carp hush puppies drizzled with a Remoulade sauce. Beginning Oct. 21, customers can enjoy a fish taco special at The Barn located at 1501 Wabash Ave.
• Quincy: Red Light Bar & Grill, 428 Maine St. from 12:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. Red Light Bar & Grill will prepare and serve Asian carp sliders; the sliders also will serve as a daily special for the week following the Asian carp cookout.
• Carbondale: Giant City State Park Visitors Center (tent in parking lot), 235 Giant City Rd., Makanda, from 12:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. Chefs from Cristaudo’s Café, Bakery and Catering will prepare and serve a Jamaican Escovitch fish taco filling for park visitors to pick up and consumer at their leisure. Cristaudo’s also will serve this dish at upcoming Southern Illinois Collaborative Kitchen events in the coming weeks.
• Carterville: Walker’s Bluff Vineyard, 326 Vermont Rd. from 2:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Chefs from Walker’s Bluff Vineyard prepare and serve the Asian carp in the winery’s tasting room.
Additionally, some dining halls at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Southern Illinois University-Carbondale also will offer Asian carp creations.
If you are concerned about mercury, Penesis said, "The contaminant levels are low. The mercury levels are lower than most commercially available fish."
Penesis also said they worked with culinary expert Chris Koetke on several different recipes.
"He's formerly the director of Kendall Culinary College and he's been the executive chef at a number of 5-star restaurants," Penesis said. "He came up with this slider recipe that is just fantastic."
Besides being tasty and healthy, Penesis calls Asian carp a "job creator."
"Once we get this up and running, this will support over 70 jobs," he said. "And if we can replicate this all the way down the Illinois River to the Mississippi River, the Wabash Rivers...to the Gulf Coast. We are really literally talking about directly hundreds and hundreds of jobs and, indirectly, thousands. So it's an economic development opportunity for us as well."
The fish that will be served at the statewide event were harvested from the Peoria Lake, which is a section of the Illinois River. And the fish for all events were provided by Sorce Freshwater Company and the Midwest Fish Co-op. Depending on which cookout you attend, you can sample sliders, patties, fish tacos, chili, soup and fish cakes.