Casting carp as a prized fish cuisine

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By Belinda Willis

A Murray Mallee fishing and processing business is keen to transform the humble carp’s image from pest to prized eating fish after already successfully casting another runt of the seafood world as a culinary darling.

Tracy Hill, the joint owner of Coorong Wild Seafood with husband Glen, is renowned for her work around the Coorong yelloweye mullet and now believes it’s time to explore carp’s “great eating potential”.

She’s been busy turning the pest fish clogging the nation’s mighty Murray River into fish cakes, sausages and mince with positive feedback at their unique fish cellar door.

Even chefs are being won over, with The Olfactory Inn at Strathalbyn currently serving a char grilled carp belly with a crispy and zesty carp spring roll in its dining room.

“We believe it’s the next big thing, and we’ve formed a corporation with some other fishermen in New South Wales and Victoria calling it a solution for carp across the whole basin,” Tracy says from their Meningie business.

“Now we need to tackle the problem with people’s perception that a pest fish equates to bad taste.

“We’ve discovered carp is really nice to eat, it’s the most eaten farmed fish in the world.”

Tracy and Glen Hill are turning an infamous pest fish into a delicacy.

It’s yet another brave and environmentally friendly plan for the inspiring couple, this year named as one of three finalists in the sustainability category of the South Australian Food Industry Awards, announced on November 23.

Coorong Wild Seafood is also in the running for the Primary Produce Award.

Their business is well recognised for its low-impact approach to fishing for mullet, mulloway and carp in their beautiful coastal wilderness.

Tracy says it’s an honour to be up against two other great local businesses in the sustainability category also helping to contribute to the state’s food industry that generated $17.6 billion in revenue for SA in 2016/2017.

The other two finalists, Ashton Valley Fresh juices and Newman’s Horseradish are examples of food businesses playing a part in SA’s craft food industry.

Ashton Valley Fresh is a juice brand run by Ceravolo Orchards in the Adelaide Hills and is spearheading innovations to reduce its food waste to zero. The juice company is also up for the innovation in food and business excellence titles.

Newman’s Horseradish at Langhorne Creek is in the running for three accolades, the sustainability, business excellence and consumer awards. Brian and Anne Meakins grow their horseradish on the banks of the Bremer River, building their own processing plant in 1992 and now filling up to 4000 jars a week to supply 95% of the SA market.

Coorong Wild Seafood’s story also stretches back to 1990s when Glen bought his first fishing licence and soon realised he was better off processing the catch himself, setting up a facility two years later.

The business sells direct to restaurants, butcher shops and supermarkets while netting a host of awards.

Its world-first environmental management plan received national and international recognition in 1998, with its operations happening partly in the Coorong National Park – a RAMSAR listed wetland of international significance teeming with wildlife.

Then, a few years ago, the humble mullet that is the mainstay of the business turned food royalty.

The charred carp belly, carp spring roll, black sesame and soy, and tempura spring onion dish at The Olfactory Inn.

Coorong Wild Seafood won top prize in the prestigious delicious Produce Award with the judging panel including renowned chefs Matt Moran and Shannon Bennett along with SA kitchen star performer Maggie Beer.

Tracy’s name was also added to the Women’s Industry Network Seafood Community roll of honour in October last year, and she’s just been voted onto the local Coorong council.

She’s particularly vocal about encouraging Australians to “read the labels” and ensure they are eating fish caught sustainably.

The company is keen to spread its wild catch message through running classes at the local school and launching tours and a fish cellar door in 2016.

It also shares its story at a weekly stall run by Trevor Bowden at the Adelaide Showground Farmers’ Market at Wayville.

This week, Tracy is busy preparing for a coach filled with 48 tourists that Glen will first meet to share stories of fishing and managing the Coorong environment.

When tourists arrives at their Meningie business, they see a filleting demonstration before sampling tasty mullet, carp and mulloway morsels prepared by Tracy and served on their family home’s verandah.

Plans are underway to launch more bespoke tours, kicking off with a Tasting Australia event in SA next April.

“We’re taking people out to the Coorong and we’re going to set a net so they’ll be able to pull their own fish out, then fillet themselves so they can have a sashimi style tasting,” Tracy says.

“Then we’ll cook some up too and then head back to our place with a lunch with local wine.

“I’m just astounded at the opportunities that appear when you are proactive and you put yourself out there and give things a go, it’s amazing what can happen.”

Industry in focus: Craft industries

Throughout the months of November and December, the state’s craft industries will be celebrated as part of I Choose SA.

South Australian craftspeople make up some of our most creative thinkers and makers of sustainable and innovative goods. Read more craft stories here.

Visit I Choose SA to meet the people building business and industry in SA, and to find out how your choices make a difference to our state.

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