Tuesday, April 3, 2007


Okay, this one you can eat. Alosa sapidissima (“the tastiest herring”) begin their spawning run up the rivers of the east coast when the water hits 40 degrees or so, which means that early spring becomes shad time. Shad!

Subject of John McPhee’s Founding Fish, storied savior of the revolutionaries at Valley Forge, mascot of the Hudson River revival, society dish on Park Avenue and at countless riverfront parties, Thoreauvian metaphor, favorite of sport and commercial fishermen alike, the long-suffering and noble shad is, first and foremost, really really yummy. It’s like no other fish I’ve ever had; baked, its flesh rises and opens up, revealing incredibly rich flavors (no doubt the result of a high fat content in the skin, and hey a little butter never hurt anyone) that work exceptionally well with lemon juice and a few capers. Its roe, well — “whug,” as a wise person once said. I’ve only cooked shad roe twice, both times dredged in a little seasoned cornmeal and pan-fried, and again with the butter and capers and lemon juice, which, you know, hlurm. You have some — and you don’t need much, just two ounces maybe — and you’ve done everything your tastebuds might reasonably have requested of you, and then some. You can pray to this mighty fish, but don’t forget to eat it, too.

The catches declined for long years and then recovered vigorously in, I think, the late 90s and early 00s. Apparently they were on the downswing again around 03; not sure of current status, although my fish guys seemed to have no problem getting it the last two years. If you’re on the east coast (and in some areas of the west coast, where introduced populations have taken hold in some Pacific-draining rivers), hie thee to your fishmonger and ask for it by name. To my Loire Valley readers, I think you can get it too, but I don’t know its name there. Here? Shad!

Note: get bones removed professionally.

I mention this because early today I glanced out the window of the train to see a solitary fisherman at one end of a long string of floats stretched perpendicular to the tide. There was mist on the glassy river and there were low clouds above the valley. The brume over the western hills was pink-tinged in its upper reaches. And somewhere downstream perhaps, the silver-sided legions of intrepid oceangoers were heading home.

To my home, anyway. Yum.



wcs said...

Looks like what we have are aloses feintes and aloses feintes du Rhône. They're alosa fallax, for the latin among you.

I don't recall ever seeing them in the markets, but then I haven't really been looking. Sounds fishy to me. Delicious, too.

Greetings from the Loire region.

Anonymous said...

Herring? Did you say herring? That's all these Dutchies eat. Herring (or Haring in Dutch)is a staple for lunch and people line up to get some as North Americans line up at a hot dog vendor to buy some street meat. First catch of the season is called Hollandse nieuwe ('Dutch new')and that's special. In order to eat the haring, you must hold it by the tail, lean your head back and let it drop down your throat. I've been watching them do it for years and it still makes me gag. There's something pornographic and cartoon-like at the same time. Yikes!

Bill Braine said...

Hmm...from Thoreau straight to x-rated fish-fetish anime. The shad is truly a remarkable fish.

For the record, they're the largest of the herrings, too -- I don't think even the Dutch could swallow a mature specimen whole.

hegemony57 said...

My Hudson River spring run fish fancy leans decidedly towards the audaciously gorgeous Morone saxatilis (aka Striped Bass, Striper, Rock Fish). On this I will not relent.

For the record, though herring giganticus fans will have there say, I'll take saxatilis any day.

Amy Plum said...

I have never heard of the aloses, Walt. Our local poissonier definitely doesn't carry them!

And Bill, I remember reading an article in the New Yorker either last year or the year before about one man's hunt for shad in the south. Could be in their archives!