Friday, February 11, 2005

The First Shad, and a Hudson River Recipe

Can it be shad season already? Certainly not in the Connecticut River or the Hudson, but somewhere, apparently, because my wife came home with shad roe for dinner a couple of days ago.

It may be that the roe in the markets now is from the so-called intercept fishery -- boats that catch shad in the ocean, intercepting them before they head upstream to spawn. The rivermen hated this (I say "hated" because, in the Hudson at least, there are so few rivermen left that the present tense doesn't apply). They thought the fish should be allowed to head upriver, where fishermen were required to lift their nets for a certain period every week to allow a sufficient number to spawn. When John Cronin was the Hudson Riverkeeper, he argued that the intercept fishery was destroying the traditional fishery and was potentially a threat to the shad themselves because it was preventing them from spawning. The ocean fishermen, not surprisingly, scoffed and said the rivermen were acting like the fish were theirs.

I wrote about the intercept fishery back in '92 or '93, I think, and ever since then early-season shad have posed a small ethical dilemma for me, one not quite as serious as Chilean sea bass dilemma but a problem nevertheless. Do I want to support a fishing activity that, in the case of shad, is potentially jeopardizing the species or, in the case of Chilean sea bass, is definitely jeopardizing the species?

The answer, of course, is no. But since there's no way to tell if the shad is from the ocean or from a southern river where spawning has already started, I tend to err on the side of gustatory satisfaction.

Speaking of which, the recipe we use (and I use the word "we" loosely -- I do none of the cooking) comes from Jim Carey, one of the last shad fishermen in Verplanck, New York, on the Hudson (again, this was in '92 or '93; I'm not even sure if Carey is still alive). After I finished interviewing him about the state of the shad fishery, I asked him how he cooks the roe. Simple, he said. Put it in a frying pan with oil and butter, on a low flame; cover it, because the individual eggs tend to pop sometimes and fly out of the pan; cook it for eight to 10 minutes on one side, flip it, and cook it for five or so minutes on the other; make sure it doesn't stick.

Gina, Sphere's executive chef, has modified that recipe, although the basics remain the same. She leaves out the butter and uses olive oil.* She coats the roe in flour before cooking it. Before putting the roe in the pan, she sautes shallots in olive oil until they're translucent, and then removes them from the pan. She then cooks the roe for five or six minutes on a side (8 to 10 minutes makes it more leathery than we like). When the roe is done, she puts the shallots back in the pan with some white white, deglazes the pan, and uses that as a sauce for the roe.

* 2/14 Update: After she read this, she broke the news to me: She does use butter, as well as olive oil. Thus does reality intrude on my fantasy of a low-fat diet.


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