Spring is in the air, with the promise of warmer days and the awakening of nature. While we may still be bundled up in coats, the coastal waters are teeming with life, hinting at the delights that lie ahead. One such treasure is the American shad, a silent yet powerful harbinger of the coming season. As the shad makes its annual journey from the Atlantic Ocean to the Delaware Bay, it brings with it a sense of anticipation and the flavors of summer.
Growing up on the Lower Eastern Shore of Maryland, my knowledge of shad was limited. The grand shad runs that once filled the Chesapeake Bay had dwindled by the time I came along. My family preferred river herring, a closely related fish with smaller roe, which we often enjoyed. Shad remained something of a myth to me, until a twist of fate led me to discover its wonders.
Fresh out of college, armed with a degree in biology, I found myself teaching environmental education for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. It was during these field trips that I unearthed the rich history of shad runs and the essential role they played in the lives of early American settlers. However, I had yet to taste the fish that held such significance.
Years later, the curiosity got the better of me, and I decided to give shad another chance. With the help of an instructional video on YouTube, I successfully deboned the fish and prepared a delicious meal. The flavors were exceptional, and my confidence as a shad chef soared. Little did I know that this would ignite a newfound passion for shad.
This year, I embarked on a shad-cooking spree. Eager to improve my skills, I procured three shad, assuming that practice would make perfect. However, my plans were thwarted by freezing temperatures on the first Sunday. Determined not to be discouraged, I persisted indoors, cleaning the shad with careful precision. It was during this time that I received a message from Rich King, our esteemed fishing reporter, inquiring about a shad story. It seemed like fate was pushing me to dive deeper into the world of shad.
With a sense of humility, I completed the task of cleaning the three shad. Although my efforts were not as artful as those in the video, they were adequate for Plan B – fishcakes! Drawing from a recipe passed down by my father, a skilled waterman and renowned waterfowl carver, I transformed the shad meat into delectable treats.
Using the remaining shad meat, I baked the pieces until they were done. After meticulously removing any remaining bones, I cooked some bacon, caramelized a generous amount of onions, and prepared a batch of mashed potatoes. To this mixture, I added the picked fish, onions, bacon, and seasoned it to taste. Forming the mixture into patties, I coated them in breadcrumbs, ensuring they wouldn’t stick. This process yielded an astonishing 30 fishcakes, which I enjoyed for dinner and froze for later.
This classic Eastern Shore recipe can be adapted for any fish and is a wonderful way to stretch your catch. If you have a surplus of fish meat that doesn’t freeze well, preparing it as fishcakes will extend its lifespan and provide delicious meals in the future. As the equinox passes and spring takes hold, it’s the perfect time to head out and cast a line in the water. Delmarvelous Land awaits, filled with the wonders of nature and the allure of shad.
So, join me on this delightful journey with shad. Let the whispers of the ocean guide you to its treasures. And remember, if you’re ever in need of inspiration, Ekilove is here to help you explore the world of shad and beyond.