Keep your invasive species sweet; you may have to eat them. Late last week StateImpact Texas put together a list of the “Top Ten Invasive Species in Texas.” But what’s the best way to trim back their numbers? Helping eliminate invasives by eating them is an idea that has received a fair amount of press in the past year. “Humans are the most ubiquitous predators on earth,” the Nature Conservancy’s Philip Kramer told Elisabeth Rosenthal of the the New York Times. “Instead of eating something like shark fin soup, why not eat a species that is causing harm, and with your meal make a positive contribution?”
Maybe a large part of the problem is branding. “While most invasive species are not commonly regarded as edible food, that is mostly a matter of marketing, experts say,” Rosenthal wrote. Wenonah Hauter, the executive director of Food and Water Watch, was of that mind: “What these species need now is a better — sexier — profile, and more cooks who know how to use them,” she said.
“The whole outdoors is like a grocery store, if you know where to look,” Cecilia Nasti, the host of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s weekly radio series, “Passport to Texas” and KUT’s “Field and Feast,” told the TM Daily Post. When internal emails circulate through TPWD about the latest invasive species, Nasti said her first question is always “Is this something we can eat?”
In that spirit, we’ve drawn up together our own subjective list, ranking five of Texas’s species by deliciousness and collecting recipes to help you prepare each.
5. Black Tiger Shrimp, Penaeus monodon
Widely raised for food in Asia, black tiger shrimp mysteriously showed up in waters off the Texas Gulf Coast last year. These shrimp, which can grow up to a foot long and weigh up to a pound, are known to eat smaller shrimp. (That last fact prompted CNN to run a blog post with the headline “Giant cannibal shrimp worry Gulf Coast watchers.”) Late last year they were found in Aransas Bay, Sabine Lake, and seventy miles offshore from Freeport, according to Texas A&M scientists.
Some have wondered if these titanic shrimp—which fetch higher prices than native shrimp—could simply become a fourth “harvestable shrimp species” off the Texas coast. (Shrimping is a $700 million business in the state.) Leslie Hartman, Matagorda Bay ecosystem leader for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, frowned on this idea. “It could be another crop, but at the expense of our native crop,” Hartman told the Houston Chronicle in December.
Tiger shrimp, which make regular appearances on menus across the globe as as “giant tiger prawns,” can be cooked like any other crustaceans.
Broiled Lemon and Garlic Tiger Prawns, All Recipes
1.5 pounds tiger prawns, peeled and deveined
1 cup butter
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1.5 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1. Preheat oven on broiler setting. With a sharp knife, remove tails from prawns, and butterfly them from the underside. Arrange prawns on broiler pan.
2. In a small saucepan, melt butter with garlic and lemon juice. Pour 1/4 cup butter mixture in a small bowl, and brush onto prawns. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese over shrimp.
3. Place broiler pan on top rack, and broil prawns for 4 to 5 minutes, or until done. Serve with remaining butter mixture for dipping.
4. Bastard Cabbage, Rapistrum rugosum
Bastard cabbage, an invasive flowering weed native to the Eurasian steppe, threatens to choke out Texas’s bluebonnets. The weed “is bullying its way along roadsides and filling fields with its dainty yellow blooms. The taller-than-waist-high flowers prompt oohs and aahs, until the admirer learns the plant is up to no good,” Kathy Huber wrote in the San Antonio Express-News. Bastard cabbage, which grow waist-high, rob wildflowers of “sun and soil nutrients.”
A member of the mustard family, bastard cabbage is classified as a “noxious weed” by both the federal and state governments. But that doesn’t mean it can’t also be delicious. TPWD’s Nasti offered the following tips on how to prepare the plant: “You need to pick the young leaves and do a really simply saute with a little garlic, sea salt and lemon,” she said, while recommending foragers stay away from the plant’s older leaves, which tend to be bitter. “Feral hog with a side of bastard cabbage—now that sounds like a tasty meal, doesn’t it?” Nasti said.
3. Asian Carp
Illinois River Biological Station, via AP
Much has been made about the move to prevent Asian carp from spreading into the Great Lakes, but grass carp (Ctenopharyngodon idella) and bighead carp (Hypophthalmichthys nobilis), two of the four Asian carp species present in the United States, have already been spotted in Texas. According to TexasInvasives.org, bighead carp are “large-bodied, fast-growing, highly fecund, voracious-feeding fish that are rapidly colonizing North American waterways.” They threaten native fish by gobbling up plankton.
“[C]hefs from New Orleans to Chicago have also tried to put a dent in the population by putting the fish on their menu,” Kristin Ohlson wrote in Smithsonian Magazine. And Siddhartha Disgupta, an associate professor at Kentucky State University’s Aquaculture Research Center, praised the fish to be a viable food source. “[S]ince it eats low on the food chain, has few contaminants such as mercury that tend to be concentrated in the flesh of other fish species,” Ohlson reports.
If you’re an angler and pull an Asian carp out of the water, here’s one way you could cook it:
Fajitas Carpitas, a recipe from USGS Fish Biologist Duane Chapman
2 pounds deboned Asian carp meat pieces
Half bottle liquid fajita marinade
10 soft tortillas, fajita size
Fajita toppings as desired, such as salsa, pico de gallo, cheese, sour cream, guacamole, etc.
Marinate deboned carp pieces in the refrigerator for at least an hour. Grill over a hot fire. Use of a fish basket, or a piece of expanded aluminum mesh will help keep the fish pieces from breaking up and falling through the grill (however, if you are careful, this is not entirely necessary because the carp meat is quite firm). Place in a covered dish when removing from the grill, to keep the fish hot until delivered to the table. Diners can construct their own tortillas with their desired toppings.
2. Nutria, Myocastor coypus
Flickr | Beatrice Murch
Nutria, native to South America and imported by fur farmers to the American south in the 1930s, are gobbling up the plants that hold Louisiana’s wetlands in place. The semi-aquatic creatures have also been spotted throughout southeast Texas and are now taking up residence in Herman Park and Lady Bird Lake.
Louisiana, which has a severe problem with the critter, created a website, www.nutria.com, to encourage turning the large, rodents into fur coats and sausages. This push aside, nutria’s appearance makes them a tough sell. (They have thick, hairless, rat-like tails and can weigh up to twenty pounds.)
“The problem with the nutria is it looks like a giant rat, but it tastes like a giant rabbit,” Dave Linkhart, director of national and international affairs for the National Trappers Association, told Discovery News. “I ate nutria for lunch, I’ve got two more right in front of me. I am encouraging people to eat nutria, but there’s cultural stigmas you have to overcome.” If you’re feeling brave, here’s a recipe courtesy the state of Louisiana:
Nutria Chili, Chef Enola Prudhomme’s recipe
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 pounds nutria ground meat
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon red pepper
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 cup diced onion
1 cup diced green bell pepper
1 cup diced red bell pepper
1 cup tomato paste
4 cups beef stock (or water)
1 can red kidney beans (opt.)
In a heavy 5-quart pot on high heat, add oil and heat until very hot. Add nutria meat, and cook and stir 10 minutes. Add salt, red pepper, chili powder, onion and both bell peppers. Cook and stir 15 minutes. Add tomato paste and 4 cups stock. Cook 30 minutes; reduce heat to medium. Add red kidney beans; cook an additional 10 minutes. Serve hot!
1. Feral hogs, Sus scrofa
Flickr | Craig O’Neal
Feral hogs, which cause an estimated $400 million in damage to property in Texas each year, are emerging as the ultimate invasive treat. Austin’s Dai Due holds a regular “hog school,” in which students hunt, butcher, and eat the hairy beasts. Feral hog is called wild boar when the meat hits your plate, so it lacks the branding problem that other invasives species face.
Philipp Meyer sang the praises of feral hog meat in TEXAS MONTHLY last August. “When properly prepared, they are delicious. Leaner than domestic hogs, they have a slightly nutty flavor that makes their meat more interesting than regular pork. This fact alone—they taste good—should have led them to the same fate as the Longhorn, but it has not. Pigs are survivors,” he wrote.
Hungry yet? There is more than enough “wild boar” to go around—an estimated 2.6 million feral pigs call Texas home.
Feral Hog Guisada, TPWD
2 bell peppers
2 large onions
1 jar of mole
4 serrano peppers
1 fifty-pound feral hog
Start with a young feral hog diced up in 1/2 inch size. Using a wash pot or large 5 gal. pot, pour about 1 cup of Wesson oil in the pot. Dice up the bell peppers and onions. Fire up the pot. When the oil gets hot, place the diced bell peppers, serrano peppers and onions in the pot and lightly brown. Place the diced feral hog in the pot and add about 1 quart of water. With a large spoon, stir and cook for about one hour. Add salt, fajita seasoning and chili powder to your taste. Add the jar of mole and continue to stir to keep the meat from sticking. Add water as needed to have a gravy texture. Cook for an additional two hours until meat is tender. Serve with flour tortillas and pico de gallo sauce.