American Shad - Eating and Cooking Tips

How to get the best out of this bony but flavorful fish

Alose a l'Oseille, grilled shad served with creamy sorrel sauce, a typical dish from the Loire Valley, France, view from above
Clive Streeter / Getty Images

Shad are to many a harbinger of spring. These relatives of the herring swarm up the rivers of the East Coast as well as several Western rivers every year to spawn. When they return to the ocean, they disappear: No one knows where they go or what they do.

Bony but Delicious

From an eating standpoint, the American or white shad is a mixed blessing. Shad are richly flavored thanks to a good bit of omega-3 laden fat, but they are among the boniest fish in the world.

An old Indian saying has it that a porcupine fled into the water and was turned inside out to become the shad. It is not far off.

This makes eating a shad fillet something of a persnickety business. You eat with one hand and pick away the bones with another. Lots of people don't like this two-step, so they either bake the fish into oblivion -- which dissolves the filament-like bones —or skip the fish altogether.

This is a shame. You can fillet a shad, but it takes skill and even for those of us who are good at it, the process is time-consuming and requires a surgically sharp knife to perform. Far better to just go with the bones.

Best Cooking Approach

We find the best way to deal with shad is to flake out the meat after poaching or smoking and make cold salads, fritters or cakes out of them. Shad are so full-flavored they really play well with strong friends such as garlic or tomato sauce or chili peppers.

Give them a try. After all, they were George Washington's favorite fish.