Shad is mostly caught for its roe, which is a bright orange. The rest of the fish is flogged off cheaply: it’s not very desirable because it is very boney: there are many tiny bones all over the place. It is very, very fiddly to get all the bones out, and the fish is often mangled by the time you do.
You can braise the fish for 4 to 6 hours in the oven, which will make the bones soft enough to eat — as you can with tinned salmon and sardines — but many find the fish has no taste left after this. Consequently, if you want to buy shad to eat, you may be best to buy a shad already filleted by a professional.
The meat is dark when raw, but cooks up beige.
Shad is native to the Atlantic seaboard of North America. It was introduced to the Pacific coast in the 1870s.
Literature & Lore
“April brings the shad’s return to the Hudson. Those flapping, leaping, squirming, iridescent beauties of the herring family will be gill-trapped again by the thousands daily. War gives the shad an extra break for its freedom. Lack of manpower, lack of equipment, waterway restrictions which push the nets back will reduce the catch, although the river will be literally teeming with fish…. Today, as in the time of George Washington and John Marshall, planked shad is the preferred dish for the gourmet. But do have your shad boned; it pays in extra eating pleasure. Wash the fish, then dry. Now broil, flesh side up, six minutes, then sprinkle with salt. Place on a pre-heated oiled plank, skin side up, and bake in a hot oven for about ten minutes. Brush the fish with melted butter. It needs nothing else.” — Paddleford, Clementine (1898 – 1967). Food Flashes Column. Gourmet Magazine. April 1944.