Two springs ago Peter Hoffman, the chef and owner of Savoy and Back Forty restaurants in Manhattan, chronicled his 1974 summer as a Hudson River shad fisherman just off 158th Street. The experience taught the New Jersey native much more than how to catch the bony fish, which heads upriver from the Atlantic to spawn from now till May. It also taught the chef how to appreciate it, not just in terms of flavor (intense, rich, oily, meaty) but in terms of history and city culture.
Shad stocks, as Hoffman explains in the piece, have for many decades been in decline (as are the skilled fishmongers who know how to bone the species, which are the largest members of the herring family) but centuries ago they were one of the first real spring foods, full of nutrients and protein and fatty flavor needed to break the hungry stretch those without Gristedes knew as winter.
That’s one of the many reasons Hoffman typically puts shad on his spring menus and hosts a “shad bake” each March. Unlike a traditional bake, theirs is in Savoy’s upstairs dining room and done in the fireplace, not a freshly dug pit — but the boned fish are still nailed to planks, covered in slabs of bacon and placed aside the fire, just the same way the colonists would have cooked them back in the less supermarketed day.
This year’s is next Tuesday night, part of a four-course dinner that includes shad and new potato fritters, pickled and cream shad with bagel crisps, and shad roe (often considered the fish’s best feature) in a sorrel consomme made by Savoy’s chef de cuisine Ryan Tate. You can reserve your spot here or call 212.219.8570, and better still, you can see Hoffman and Tate demonstrate how to plank shad all day today and Sunday on Edible’s weekly food segment: Let’s Eat on NY1.