I had a shad. And painstakingly deboned it.
Shad. The hallmark Mid-Atlantic harbinger of spring, along with the ubiquitous asparagus, those tired ramps, the pods, the peas, mushrooms, rhubarb, berries and such. However the shad demands more than a peeler. Nimble and sensitive fingers, insurmountable patience and a dexterous knife rule the day. Shad roe is the folksy popular progeny while the mothership is generally an afterthought, overlooked on account of the maddening maze of bones; pin bones, “y” bones and everything in between.
Provençal culinary folklore suggests that the oxalic acid in sorrel melts the multitude of minuscule bones. There are as many fables to support the homeopathic shad-butchery of yesteryear as there are tales on the intrawebs declaring otherwise. Undeterred and fiercely obedient to traditional French cuisine, the shad was butterflied through the back, the pin bones removed, stuffed with an ample amount of sorrel, bathed with brandy and slow baked for 10 hours at 160F.
The fish didn’t fall apart. In fact, it held together quite well. If the oxalic acid had worked as well as advertised, I would get a boneless slice of shad, the bones having melted away much like those in pickled herring. Perhaps a pressure cooker would have sufficed.
It didn’t work. The results were discouraging and left discomfort in the craw. The “y” shaped pin bones are as remarkable a choking hazard as they are irritatingly baffling. Deboning shad is an enterprise in another reality of fish butchering and the handful of old timers that still know how to do it cleanly and efficiently deserve a comfy repose somewhere between the Smithsonian’s American History and Folk Art Department. The meat was picked apart and we made shad cakes like they used to do back in the 50′s when you could still find canned shad roe at the grocery store.
There are about 400 bones, maybe even more, in each filet. After fucking up a couple filets the bone matrix was finally deciphered and eventually, with dainty fingers, insufferable patience and delicate knifework, about 99.27% of the bones were removed. The roe was rolled up in the beta version and inlayed in the forcemeat; a mixture of ground fluke, cream and egg white then sieved and mixed with J.O. spice, lemon zest and sorrel. It was rolled up as one would for a ballotine then poached, gently.
A revised 2.0 version had the roe washed clean with water to remove the blood and bound with 10% of the forcemeat. Much better results. What’s more, the sorrel, without contact to the air or too high of cooking temperature kept green. A sauce was made. Loosey-goosey soubise of sorts (fish fumet thickened with butter, rice and onion) then blended smooth with blanched sorrel, watercress and parsley. Lardons from my venrèche, little onions and red thumb potatoes filled out the rest of the plate after the slice was seared in lard rendered from the cured belly. The dish was well executed, properly harmonized and exceedingly well received.