With spring come a few bones to pick with shad, baseball

HAPPY EATER

March 22, 1995|By ROB KASPER

The air was warm and folks were feeling frisky. Spring was nearly here. The question was what could I eat to celebrate the season.

The answer turned out to be shad. This was a pretty conventional response. But I'm a pretty conventional guy. Moreover, there are some people who think eating shad, or any fish, is a daring act. One such person lives in our house, our 10-year-old son.

"I don't eat fish," he says. For him this is a belief based on the taste and texture of the fish, not on any tenet of philosophy.

I have tried the usual parental tricks to change his mind. I have told him he has a personal connection with the fish. From time to time, I have reminded him that he either caught the fish in question, or helped me pick it out at the market. The kid has not bought this fish-is-your-friend argument. Last summer he didn't buy another version of the argument when I tried to get him to eat the tomatoes he had grown in our garden. In the kid's mind, loyalty stops at the end of his fork. Just because he brought it to the table doesn't mean he has to eat it.

Occasionally I have reminded the kid that he has switched his position on fish. I have pointed out that he once ate grilled shark and swordfish. But like a U.S. Senator who has changed political parties, the kid is not interested in discussing the past. All that matters is the present. And, for right now, the kid is firmly anti-fish.

But I keep trying, and on a recent Saturday full of sunshine and promise, I bought some shad at the Cross Street Market. The fellow who sold me the fish, Tommy Chagouris of Nick's Inner Harbour Seafood, sang its praises. Even though shad is difficult to bone and does not have a big fan club, its arrival each spring fills him with hope, he said.

"The shad run in the spring is one of the things that keeps me from quitting the fish business," he said. "It is fresh, local, beautiful fish," he said.

Chagouris had to interrupt his soliloquy on shad to calm a shouting match that had erupted between a customer and a clerk. Not everyone, it seemed, was filled with a sense of joy and wonder.

When tempers calmed and handshakes had been exchanged, Chagouris resumed his discourse. The shad fillets we were admiring, Chagouris said, had been boned by Andy Foehrkolb, who hailed from a clan who had mastered the difficult art of removing shad bones.

I bought some shad, took it home and put it in the refrigerator and schemed of ways to make the fish appeal to the household's non-believer. I found a recipe, in Mark Bittman's "Fish" (Macmillan, $27.50) that called for drizzling salted shad fillets with melted butter, cooking them under a broiler for about six minutes, then sprinkling the fish with a tablespoon of capers. The kid wouldn't go for the capers, but maybe the butter would please him.

Next I tried to get the kid in a good mood. An hour before supper I invited the kid and his older brother to join me out in the alley to play a game of "hot box." In this game, sometimes called "base runners," a kid scampers back and forth between two bases, trying to avoid being tagged out by fielders stationed at each base. Kids love this game and as soon as we got out in the alley, another kid from the neighborhood joined in.

Even though it was almost spring, I was not about to scamper between bases. I put on a baseball glove and confined my duties to catching the ball and tagging out the runner. We used a tennis ball instead of a baseball, because throwing arms were rusty and there was a chance a runner could be clobbered by an errant throw.

As it turned out, I was the one who ended up getting hurt. While chasing a runaway ball down the alley, I tripped over a trash bag filled with garden clippings, the refuse of spring. Hitting the bag did not hurt. Hitting the alley did.

As I sat in the alley bleeding, the kids surrounded me. I told them I was going to have to quit and put a bandage on my skinned hand. I offered one of the kids my baseball glove. Another kid called "time out" to make sure I couldn't tag anybody out with the glove.

One rite of spring, baseball, was off to a shaky start. Our first shad dish of the season didn't fare much better.

I broiled the buttered fillets of shad. They were delicious, virtually melting in my mouth. My wife, our 14-year-old son and I lapped the fish up. The 10-year-old, still flush from his baseball game, took one look at the glorious spring shad and said he preferred pizza.

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