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 WhatscookinNEPhilly@gmail.com or in care of the Northeast Times, 2512 Metropolitan Drive, Trevose, PA 19053)