Duluth’s lamprey taste testBack in the 1990s, University of Minnesota Sea Grant officials explored the idea of exporting sea lamprey from the Great Lakes, where they were devastating native fish species, to Europe, where they’re a sought-after delicacy.
By: Andrew Krueger, Duluth News Tribune
Back in the 1990s, University of Minnesota Sea Grant officials explored the idea of exporting sea lamprey from the Great Lakes, where they were devastating native fish species, to Europe, where they’re a sought-after delicacy.
Portugal, in particular, was deemed a potential market for a creature that, at the time, was fetching in excess of $20 a pound in that country.
To that end, a taste test was arranged in Duluth in June 1996, in which several Northland VIPs — including then-Duluth Mayor Gary Doty and then-University of Minnesota Duluth chancellor Kathryn Martin — tried out dishes concocted by local chef Bob Bennett, who described lamprey as being “a lot better tasting than lutefisk.”
When preparing lamprey, the head and its nasty-looking mouth are cut off. Bennett’s dishes included a lamprey fillet with garlic, onions, balsamic vinegar, tomatoes and olive oil, served over angel hair pasta. Most were deemed palatable — if not exactly new favorites — by the panel. But the traditional Portuguese preparation — incorporating the blood of the lamprey — did not go over well with the tasters.
That style of preparing lamprey was an obstacle to commercially exporting the eel-like creature — because it requires blood, the lamprey had to be shipped live, which was costly.
Minnesota Sea Grant Aquatic Invasive Species Program coordinator Doug Jensen said Friday that another hurdle was that the taste of Great Lakes lamprey wasn’t quite the same as European varieties. In the end, commercially exporting lamprey was deemed unfeasible.
And while there are some in the Northland who eat lamprey, its culinary fans are few and far between.
As much as anything, this anecdote from an article about chef Bennett and the 1996 taste test may explain why:
“Cleaning the 15 lamprey he received this morning was a bit of a challenge, Bennett said. The beasties wriggled out of his grip with super-lamprey strength, snaking around the floor and fastening themselves to the surface of the stainless-steel prep sink with their suction-cup-like mouths.”