Classically trained Chef Philippe Parola tackles invasive species with his new cookbook full of recipes and tips for turning problem species into tasty meals
I'm an avid reader and collector of wild game cookbooks. Of particular interest are books with unusual recipes or ingredients. CAN'T BEAT 'EM, EAT 'EM! definitely fits that definition.
Did you know nutria meat was higher in protein and lower in fat than beef, chicken, or pork? It's lower in cholesterol, too. Or that invasive silver and bighead carp, now known as Copi, are high in helpful Omega 3 fat and protein while much lower in harmful chemicals, such as dioxin and PCBs, and heavy metals such as mercury than other more common food fish?
Invasive plant and animal species cost this country in the neighborhood of 120 billion dollars per year in environmental destruction, reduced agricultural productivity, decreased property values, the strain on public utility operations, diminished freshwater quality, and commercial fisheries interference.
For years now, we've fought them in a number of ways, including large scale herbicide and pesticide use, commercial fishing, paid sharpshooters, and other methods. And, in many cases, the problem has only gotten worse.
Now, one chef has a new theory. Eat them. Chef Philippe Parola says, Despite the inquiries, efforts, and dollars thrown at the problem, time has demonstrated that complete eradication of invasive species is impossible without a greater negative impact on native species and the ecosystem. In other words, we are spending billions of dollars trying to eradicate species that are, in many cases, perfectly natural food sources. His new cookbook, CAN'T BEAT 'EM, EAT 'EM!, educates people about invasive species and provides delicious recipes to turn a problem into a fine meal.
Chef Parola was born in France where he took to hunting and fishing at an early age. After culinary school, Parola moved to the United States and settled in Louisiana, where he went on to work for and own some of the country's most renowned restaurants. After a lifetime of cooking all over the world, including for multiple U.S. Presidents, Parola took on the new challenge of changing the way the country looks at invasive carp when it comes to a food fish. His company, Silverfin Inc., purchases the invasive Copi from commercial fishermen and turns it into pre-made fish cakes and other products marketed to commercial kitchens like schools and concessions for large arenas.
With CAN'T BEAT 'EM, EAT 'EM!, Parola has expanded from Copi to other invasive plant and animal species that can be turned into delicious meals everyone will enjoy. From fish and shellfish such as Copi, lion fish, snakeheads, and black tiger shrimp, to mammals like nutria, feral hogs, and goats, to waterfowl like muscovy ducks, and plant species such as kudzu, there are recipes for just about every edible problem species we face today. There are even recipes for iguana and python for the more adventurous eaters in your group.
Besides the over 40 recipes contained in the book, there are notes and profiles for each species to educate the reader on where it came from, how it affects native species, and how to develop recipes of your own.
While some might question whether or not treating a species as food can make an impact, Chef Parola points to the fairly recent past. In the 1980s, my dear friend and American culinary legend, the late Chef Paul Prudhomme, introduced blackened redfish as a delicacy. The popularity of just that one recipe led to overfishing redfish on the Gulf coast to the point that to protect redfish populations, governments in the states bordering the Gulf placed significant limitations on the numbers caught. So, changing dietary habits, leading to harvesting food, can impact the control of a species, Parola said.
While Parola realizes that impactful changes will take time, he is hopeful that introducing more people to the food value of invasive species will make a difference in the future. In my fourth decade of introducing invasive plant and animal species into the world's cuisine, my quest to solve a significant ecosystem issue goes forward. My vision is that our environment will be protected, man's stewardship of natural resources will improve, and people will shift their beliefs about food sources to improve nutrition and help end hunger. Achieving my vision might take 10 or 20, even 30 or 40 years from now, long after I'm gone. But what a legacy to leave for the generations yet to come to say no to being the most wasteful period in modern history and say yes to the most resourceful period in history.
If you'd like to order a copy of CAN'T BEAT 'EM, EAT 'EM! for yourself, you can get one at www.cantbeatemeatem.us.
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