A modern Peter Magnus, always on the alert for coincidences, once called my attention to the singular fitness of the height of the fish season and the coming of Lent.
"It happens uncommonly convenient, at any rate. How very, very awkward it would be if there were no fish in the market just when the Church forbids meat!" prosed my interlocutor, whose nationality I need not specify.
I might have replied, had there been any hope of his seeing the point of the story, with the anecdote of one of his countrymen who invited me to view the total eclipse of the moon through his telescope, and, while I gazed, remarked upon the happy accident that this particular eclipse "had taken place at the full of the moon."
Dame Nature adjusts kindly and cleverly all seasons and happenings to the need of her children. Fish, easily digested and rich in phosphates, are in their delicious prime as winter suddenly relaxes her hold upon our world and our systems. We needed fats to keep up animal fats in cold weather. The first warmer days ease the taut running-gear of muscles, nerves and digestive apparatus. She cries, "'Ware meat!" peremptorily. However deaf we may be to the Church's behest, we can not afford to disregard the Great Mother's.
The breaking up of winter, the general letting down of physical energies and the abundant supply of food precisely adapted to the season's needs, form a "coincidence" that the most stupid must perceive. The like principle of demand and supply might, one might imagine, be recognized in the matter of breakfast foods. Fish, rightly cooked, tempts the appetite and does not overload the stomach. Another recommendation which should have weight with commuters and "hustlers," is that the yielding fibers require less strenuous mastication than those of steaks, chops and rashers.
The truism that as a nation we are inordinate flesh-consumers is tattered by much wear. Since vegetarianism comes as a hard lesson to the mass of our race, and the exacting palate demands more definite flavors than those of eggs in any form, resort to crustacean and finny delicacies should follow as a matter of course and of common sense.
Sturgeon is known in England as the "Queen's Own Fish." Hiawatha names him as the "King of Fishes." The American epicure has transferred this title to the more delicately flavored salmon. If a vote of native-born gourmands of all ranks of society were taken, I think the shad would be the elect favorite - the dainty queen of fishes, the more royal for the wealth of roes that bespeak her prime.
Have your fish cleaned and split down the back. Wash and wipe dry. Have ready a clean oak or hickory plank, about two and one-half inches in thickness and of such a length that it will go easily into your oven. Set it in the oven until it is heated through. Rub your shad on both sides with an abundance of butter, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Lay it, open side up, on the hot plank and fasten it firmly into place by putting a tin tack at each of the four corners. Lay the plank on the upper grating of the oven, and rub the fish with butter every few minutes until done. You can tell when this point is reached by testing with a fork. Carefully withdraw the tacks and slip the fish upon a hot platter. Serve with melted butter, and garnish with slices of lemon and sprigs of parsley.
Broiled shad with sauce piquante Split the fish down the back, wash, wipe dry, and lay it open on a well-greased gridiron. Broil over clear coals, taking care to turn the fish often, as it burns easily. If the shad is a thick one it will take about twenty minutes to cook thoroughly. Remove carefully from the gridiron, lay on a hot fish platter, butter well and sprinkle with pepper and salt. Pass with the fish a sauce made in the following manner:
Rub to a cream three tablespoonfuls of butter and two tea-spoonfuls of lemon juice. Whip into this two teaspoonfuls of finely minced parsley. The sauce should be light green in color. Keep in a cold place until time to serve it with the fish.