From the Delaware to your kitchen

While it’s not the typ­ic­al fish dish, Shad makes for a de­li­cious din­ner.

There are more than 170 types of fish in Pennsylvania’s wa­ters. Cur­rently, shad is one of them. Here is its story

As a mem­ber of the her­ring fam­ily, the Amer­ic­an shad is a salt­water fish and is nat­ive to the east­ern United States. It spawns, however, in rivers along the North At­lantic coast.  These shad, an­nu­al har­bingers of spring, make their mi­gra­tion from the At­lantic Ocean swim­ming six to 14 miles per day. For propaga­tion’s sake, some travel up the Delaware River on a jour­ney that cov­ers more than 300 miles. Most of the shad that don’t com­plete this mis­sion are of­ten net­ted or caught by anglers along the way. Many of these mod­ern fish­er­men prob­ably fol­low the same paths to the banks of the Delaware that the East­ern Wood­lands In­di­an tribes used when they went shad fish­ing. The shad has long been en­joyed as a culin­ary de­light, along with its prized roe (the fe­male’s sac full of eggs), which is thought of as a del­ic­acy. However, as an In­di­an tribes­man was once over­heard say­ing, “Shad heap good, but heap full of bones.”

Each shad has al­most 700 bones. Two rows of bones run along the length of the fish. These bones can sep­ar­ate the shad eat­ers from the shad ab­stain­ers. For­tu­nately, shad is sold fil­leted. Un­for­tu­nately, the price per pound can be more than triple the price of whole fish. Formerly re­garded as “the poor man’s sal­mon,” shad could not be con­sidered that today. It is, however, sea­son­al and very de­li­cious.

Shad were sup­posedly so plen­ti­ful that le­gend re­calls that you could walk across the river on their backs. Loc­al tribes shared the best fish­ing areas for shad and con­sidered these spots to be off-lim­its for war­like be­ha­vi­or. In his time, George Wash­ing­ton loved eat­ing fish, and shad was his fa­vor­ite fish din­ner.

With shad about to make their run up the Delaware, I’m think­ing about find­ing my dad’s old tackle box and fish­ing rods. From what I’ve read, shad may bite on flut­ter spoons and bright-colored dart lures. As these thoughts came creep­ing in­to my mind, I had to chuckle and agree with my friend, Lisa, who, from her study of past life re­gres­sion, had dubbed me a “pi­on­eer wo­man.” Could this be? Maybe my former pi­on­eer in­stincts are dir­ect­ing me to the river banks in­stead of to the Fish De­part­ment, where I usu­ally troll for fish.

If you are not in­clined to head to the Delaware with a fish­ing pole in hand, there is a Shad Fest­iv­al next month in Lam­ber­tville, N.J., where cooked shad should be read­ily avail­able to pur­chase and to try.

Some loc­al su­per­mar­kets will carry shad, if only fleet­ingly. If you don’t see it, ask, as I per­son­ally know it can be ordered. Just think, you may be din­ing on a des­cend­ant of a fish that George Wash­ing­ton ate.

Al­though some cooks swear that the shad’s small bones will “melt” if the whole fish is gut­ted, seasoned, wrapped tightly in foil and baked 10 to 12 hours in a low 225-de­gree oven, this meth­od also melts away pre­cious time and en­ergy. In my opin­ion, it is not a fool­proof meth­od, either. Bones - be­ware!

When shad is in sea­son, I pur­chase fil­lets, and the fol­low­ing is my fa­vor­ite way to en­joy them.


1 ½ lb. shad fil­lets

4 Tb­sp. but­ter

½ cup white wine

4 Tb­sp. fresh chives (or 2 Tb­sp. dried)

Salt and Pep­per to taste                            

- Pre­heat oven to 400 de­grees.

- Spray a tin foil-lined pan with oil lightly.

- Ar­range fil­lets in pan.

- Dot but­ter over fish.

- Pour wine evenly over fish.

- Sprinkle with chives. 

- Salt and pep­per to taste.

- Bake in pre­heated oven ap­prox­im­ately 20-25 minutes or un­til fish tests done.

(If shad has skin at­tached, place it skin-side down in tin foil-lined pan NOT sprayed with oil. When fish is done, lift fil­let to serving plate, and the skin should stick to the foil.)

Eat well, live long, en­joy!

(Ques­tions or tips can be sent to Donna Zit­ter Bor­de­lon at Whats­cook­in­ or in care of the North­east Times, 2512 Met­ro­pol­it­an Drive, Tre­vose, PA 19053)

comments powered by Disqus