Sharks, Little Fish and Oddballs

finished boquerones recipe, with fish on a plate
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

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I specialize in “odd” fish. What is odd? Something you cannot normally get in a supermarket, or even in most fish markets. Fish you either must catch yourself or discover at a truly great market. I’m talking about fresh anchovies, shad, sculpins, sharks, suckers, oyster toads, whitebait and the like. It’s kind of a grab-bag of fishes, but all are delicious in their own way.

Many of these fish are derided by most Americans as “trash fish.” Why? Not because they taste icky, but because they are ugly, or have more bones than “easy” fish such as striped bass or salmon. The extra set of bones makes then trickier to eat, but they are often fuller flavored than their pale cousins.

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Sharks, Skates, Rays

A word on sharks, rays and skates. There has been a lot of controversy about eating these cartilaginous fishes, and much of it is warranted. Shark and skate populations are nosediving worldwide, and many species are in serious trouble.

But not all.

There are a few sharks I can in good conscience recommend that you buy in a supermarket: Dogfish, thresher shark and mako caught in the American or Canadian part of the Pacific Ocean. (Here is the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch page for sharks.) If by chance you can find leopard shark in a market, by all means buy it. You will likely only see it in California, however.

Italian glutton's style fish in a bowl

Italian Glutton’s Style Fish

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Thai fish curry with halibut in a bowl

Thai Fish Curry

A classic Thai green curry made with leopard shark. You could use any firm fish for this recipe.

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Bat ray wing and brown butter with capers on a plate.

Skate or Ray Wing with Brown Butter

A French classic, this can be done with any skate or ray.

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A bowl of crispy fish skin chips.

Crispy Fish Skin Chips

I put this under sharks because it works really well with them. But virtually any fish will work here, so long as the skin is thick enough to remove with a knife. Oh, and they taste awesome.

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Little Fish

A plate of boquerones ready to eat.

Boquerones, Fresh Cured Anchovies

If you can get really fresh anchovies or sardines — or even smelt or capelin — make these. It’s like a cross between a pickled fish and ceviche. Really great!

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This is my version of a classic Sicilian recipe, pasta con sarde, which, as you may have guessed, normally uses fresh sardines.

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Swedish Pickled Herring

Herring and sardines spoil so fast that most of us eat them already salted or pickled. Here’s how to make pickled herring Swedish style.

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Little herring fillets, coated with good mustard, rolled in oats and fried in butter. Heaven.

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Hank Shaw with shad

Cooking and Eating Shad

Shad can be an unloved fish, but they are wonderful — if you know how to prepare them. Here are my tips and techniques for eating the world’s largest herring.

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shad roe with bacon

Shad Roe with Bacon and Grits

Shad roe is the classic springtime dish. If you’ve never eaten roe from a fish, here is a way to start; I also include alternate fish you can make this with.

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Boneless Tempura Shad

This is the best way I have ever found to deal with all the bones in a shad. Once you do this technique and then tempura-fry the shad pieces, you will never look back.

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smoked shad recipe

How to Smoke Shad

Shad are bony fish and need special treatment. Smoking them is one of the best ways to deal with all those bones. Once the fish is nicely smoked, you can flake off the meat.

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Shad rillettes, especially when made from smoked shad, are awesome on crackers or toasted bread.

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Overhead view of Chinese crispy fried carp recipe

Sichuan Crispy Fried Carp

Possibly the best recipe ever for this unloved fish. The Chinese specialize in carp cookery, and this crispy, sweet-spicy-sour carp will make a believer out of you.

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Frogs and Turtles

A plate of French fried frog legs

French Fried Frog Legs

A classic way to eat frog legs in Provence is to dust them in flour, fry them in butter and add some garlic, parsley and lemon.

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Chinese stir-fried frog legs. Easy to make, real-deal Chinese food. Yep, the Chinese eat lots of frogs.

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Creole Turtle Soup

This slightly spicy soup is a standard on menus all over New Orleans. If you can get turtle, use it. If not, you can sub in some other meats.

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Cajun Turtle Sauce Piquante

A Cajun classic, sauce piquante is a bit like a gumbo, only with tomato. You can use any meat for this dish, but turtle is pretty common.

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