Category Archives: shad

Freezer Burn, or: A Few Good Apps

If you want to get serious about foraged foods, a big ol’ freezer is pretty much indispensable. Mine is packed with crabs, clams, nettles, mushrooms, berries, smoked salmon, shad, assorted heads, various stocks, and so on. Such a freezer full of foraged foods comes in handy for a party. Never mind that Marty tried her best to sabotage the whole affair by leaving the freezer door open for 18 hours a few days before. Most of the packages were still frozen, if sweating on the outside, and the clearly defrosted stuff got whipped into shape for the party, including stinging nettle pesto, Columbia river shad, and porcini mushrooms.

Look, Mom, no bones!

The shad in particular was a thing of genius. Several of the vacuum-sealed packages were flimsy, the once frozen shad now thawed and bendy. There was no way those things were going back into the deep freeze. As anyone who’s ever processed these largest members of the herring family knows, shad are bony critters fit for deboning by the same jailbirds who punch out New Hampshire’s “Live Free or Die” license plates.

Normally I have most of my Columbia River shad catch smoked and canned at Tony’s, but I always keep a few fillets on hand to smoke myself or bake in the Low-Country style. This time I wanted a croquette I could serve at the party with a spicy New Orleans remoulade. I baked the shad for 30 minutes, spent 15 minutes picking as many bones as I could, and then buzzed the pile o’ fish in the Cuisinart. To this pulverized mass of shad I added sauteed onions and red pepper, Worstcester sauce, lemon juice, an egg, some flour, cayenne pepper, and a bunch of fresh herbs from the garden, including tarragon, basil, chives, and parsley. I added more of the herbs than you might think; the more the better, in fact. Shad is a rich, strong-tasting fish, and the fresh herbs help to brighten the flavor and temper it at the same time. Hank Shaw has posted a similar recipe here, minus the sauteed veggies and lemon.

Once made, you can refrigerate the shad for a few days until party time. It has a consistency similar to well-mixed tuna fish salad. Or you can plow ahead and make the croquettes ahead of time and then freeze. I took the latter path, forming little hockey pucks of about the same diameter as a fifty-cent piece. These I dredged generously in panko and placed on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper. Into the freezer they went for a couple hours until solid enough to be removed to zip-lock bags. An hour before the party I arranged them once again on a cookie sheet to defrost and fried in oil minutes before the guests arrived. The fried shad croquettes were then topped with the red remoulade (although an aioli would be good too).

Porcini Crostini

I took this one from John Sundstrom, the chef/owner of Lark restaurant in Seattle. The prep is really quite simple: chopped porcini mushrooms roasted in olive oil with fresh thyme and rosemary. It’s a little depressing to see all that beautiful fresh porcini lose half its volume by the time it comes out of the oven, but that’s the nature of this fungal beast. Thinly sliced baguette is lightly toasted, rubbed with garlic, covered with a blanket of good ricotta, and topped with the porcini (and a generous sprinkling of salt).

Slow-roasted Tomatoes with Nettle Pesto Garnish

The last canape escaped the intrusions of paparazzi. Tomatoes were cored, chopped, and placed in a glass dish with olive oil to slowly roast overnight in a 225-degree oven. These got spooned on squares of baked polenta and dabbed with stinging nettle pesto.

Next time Marty better conspire to leave the freezer door open a little longer, ’cause we gotta clean out that sucker once and for all this winter.


Schadenfreude: Hyperdictionary definition: [n] (German) delight in another person’s misfortune.

Shadenfreude: FOTL definition: [n] (Piscatorial) delight in catching bucketloads of American shad, which could be viewed as the fish’s misfortune.

This has become an annual trip for me in recent years. I blast down to Portland for a night of good grub, a dram of Beam, and a few hands of cribbage with my pal Bradley. In the morning we get up before dawn, pound a few mugs of coffee and a Viking-sized butterhorn and make tracks for the Columbia Gorge, where we get in line with several dozen other vehicles to wait for the 7 am starting gun, when they open the Bonneville Dam visitor’s center to the public. It’s key that we be one of the first cars in line, because inevitably we’re the only anglers fly-fishing and we need to establish a proper DMZ for back-casting.

If there can be said to be any sort of silver lining at all to the decline of salmon and steelhead in the Columbia-Snake system, it is the shad. American shad (Alosa sapidissima, from the Saxon allis for European shad and the Latin sapidissima for most delicious), are the largest members of the herring family and native to the Atlantic. Pioneering aquaculturist Seth Green planted the first 10,000 shad in Pacific waters in 1871, introducing the survivors of a seven-day cross-country railroad journey into the Sacramento River. There is evidence that descendants of that original stock might have made it to the Columbia River as early as 1876, but the river was planted in 1885 for good measure.

Now there are millions of shad migrating up the Columbia every year, and without much of a commercial fishery it’s a boom-time for recreational anglers. Most fishermen don’t bother until fish counts over the dam hit 100,000 per day, but owing to a complicated set of schedules, Bradley and I would need to make our trip in advance of that magic number this year. As it turned out, we needn’t have worried.

As Bradley says, fly-fishing for shad in water as big and boisterous as the Columbia is “about as much fun as you can have with a flyrod,” at least on a sustained basis. Sure, there’s nothing quite like a hot steelhead ripping line off your reel (or hooking into a marlin, I suppose, if you’re into 14-weight rods), but in terms of action, it really doesn’t get much better than shad. And in my experience, fly-fishing is far and away the best way to catch a ton of shad, much more so than conventional tackle (although I’m told there’s a hand-lining method that absolutely slays ’em).

There’s something about the dead-drifted fly that turns the shad on, so right off the bat you’re playing to the flyrod’s strength. The take is usually near the end of the drift, which means you’re fighting a three-pound fish downstream in the current of huge water. Double barbed hooks come in handy. As do heavy sinktip lines. I use a soft six-weight rod, which means Bradley is always barking at me to bring in my fish, “enough diddling around already.”

On this day we were joined by Bradley’s brother, Frank. The action was fast and furious all morning as we jostled for position and razzed each other each time a fish got off. Shad have soft mouths and it’s not uncommon to lose as many fish as you land. Still, by noon we had well over a hundred pounds of fish on the stringer, this despite most of the males being tossed back. After lunch Frank and Bradley set to the messy business of harvesting roe from the females. Parboiled for five minutes with a dash of vinegar, the sausage-like roe casings keep well in the freezer and can be fried up in butter to make a powerful fisherman’s breakfast with eggs and spuds.

Minus the eight odd fish I took home to fillet and smoke, the rest of our fish are now at Tony’s Smokehouse & Cannery in Oregon City, getting cleaned, smoked, and pressure-canned. Shad on a shingle, anyone?

Here’s some vid action from the morning, which conveys the social nature of the shad experience. While so much fishing has become a game of devoting monk-like attention to ever-dwindling resources in the face of mounting competition, shad fishing is downright chatty. And with no limits, you can be picky with your catch, tossing back the small males, for instance, despite Frank’s objections…

Shad on a Shingle

One species that seems to be filling the void vacated by West Coast salmon is the American shad, the largest member of the herring family. Who knows, maybe this non-native import from the Atlantic would have thrived anyway, but it’s hard to dismiss the idea that all that habitat altered by the damming of large western rivers has been waiting for a tenant.

Though I never enjoy killing a fish, taking home a burlap sack filled with shad doesn’t feel so bad. Several million shad returned to the Columbia last year. (I can’t dig up the actual number because WDFW and ODFW have enough fish-related problems to worry about much less keeping tabs on healthy fish runs.) Without much of a commercial fishery, most of those fish are available to recreational anglers, who barely put a dent in the population. With shad season coming up, it’s time to polish off the stack of last year’s cans in the basement and tie up some darts for the ’08 run.

Usually I’ll fillet and smoke a mess of shad for the freezer and have the rest canned. Smoked and canned shad is reminiscent of canned tuna, only richer and gamier. Some people (who don’t like fish) think of it as fishy; their disinterest means more for the rest of us. The cans lend themselves most obviously to casual lunch sandwiches, but you can also make an easy hors d’oeuvre for dinner parties: Shad on a Shingle. Adorn crackers with a dollop of smoked shad salad, which might include diced onion, mayo, seasoning, lemon juice, and a pinch of chopped parsley. Serve this and you’ll know straight away who the real fish lovers are.