'Giving back to the ecosystem': Elgin restaurant likes what it can do with copi (formerly Asian carp)

  • A pair of copi sliders wait to be devoured at Kubo Sushi in Elgin during a Thursday tasting event for the recently rebranded fish that was formerly known as Asian carp.

      A pair of copi sliders wait to be devoured at Kubo Sushi in Elgin during a Thursday tasting event for the recently rebranded fish that was formerly known as Asian carp. Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • Elgin communications manager Molly Gillespie tries a copi slider at Kubo Sushi in Elgin. The city sponsored a tasting event on Thursday.

      Elgin communications manager Molly Gillespie tries a copi slider at Kubo Sushi in Elgin. The city sponsored a tasting event on Thursday. Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • Minced copi was mixed with Japanese barbecue sauce, panko and seasonings and formed into a patty and grilled for a slider Thursday at Kubo Sushi in Elgin.

      Minced copi was mixed with Japanese barbecue sauce, panko and seasonings and formed into a patty and grilled for a slider Thursday at Kubo Sushi in Elgin. Rick West | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 6/23/2022 5:43 PM

As the old saying goes, you can't put lipstick on a pig.

So why not just call it something else?

 

That's the strategy for the much-maligned, invasive Asian carp, which was rebranded Wednesday by the state of Illinois and several partner organizations as "copi" and is now the subject of a new marketing campaign to get consumers and diners to jump on board.

Part of that strategy is to get people to actually taste copi, which is described as a mild, clean-tasting fish with heart-healthy omega-3s and very low levels of mercury.

On Thursday, about a dozen taste-testers gathered at Kubo Sushi in Elgin to try minced copi in an Asian-inspired slider.

Ground copi was mixed with a Japanese barbecue sauce, some panko bread crumbs and Italian seasonings. It was pan-fried to help it keep its shape and then grilled.

The slider was topped with pickled jalapeños, marinated radishes, sushi vinegar, a sake/mirin blend and some greens, and served with a side of yuzu aioli.

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"It's tasty," said Elgin communications manager Molly Gillespie. "The slider has a really good balance of crunchy and heat, and the fish holds together really well. Very enjoyable."

Kubo Sushi owner Kris Palermo said the mild fish is perfect for any cuisine. But he was just as excited about using it for reasons of conservation.

"After researching it and learning about it, I'm really proud to be a part of this," Palermo said. "It's my way of giving back to the ecosystem that has been so good to me."

Palermo said he was planning to create more menu items with copi.

"It will probably be part of Kubo for a long time," he said.

The city of Elgin sponsored the tasting event Thursday, which was to include Kubo's passing out free samples later in the afternoon and evening. The city also will donate one dollar for each sample passed out to Friends of the Fox River.

Ted Penesis, director of community outreach with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, said state officials know they can't eradicate the fish, but they hope that by presenting it as an inexpensive, versatile food source they can reduce their "copious" numbers.

"Getting that balance back in the Illinois River is what this is all about," he said.

An evolving list of restaurants and retailers offering copi can be found at ChooseCopi.com.

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