In April my interest in living returns with the brief magical return of the shad. It, with its roe and asparagus, has been the spring tonic of my family for generations on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. As soon at the Chesapeake Landing Restaurant and fishmonger has the S- H- of the plastic letters up on its sign on Route 33 towards Tilghman, we’re banging the door down.
My mother, whose default method it to cook things rare (dangerous with pork, wondrous with shad) says, as if casting a spell, “Broil the filet until it flakes, fry the roe in butter.”
Shad roe is perhaps not for the squeamish as it is fish eggs still in the sac (such an ewwww word, sac) and, when raw, red-brown as a liver. However, fried in butter, the texture changes; it caramelizes and becomes tasty, oceanic, as good for you and invigorating as a two-week seaside vacation in Maritime Canada.
It puts you in your place, as a link in the long chain of hunters and gatherers following the springtime rebirth and renewal of the rivers and fish runs, and it’s so important for us modern folk who can have salmon or strawberries whenever we want. You can’t have shad. It is a taste, along with with thin tender spears of fresh new asparagus on buttered toast, that exists only for a few weeks in the spring.
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