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The best way to deal with bony fish is to poach them gently in broth and then flake out the meat, which can then be used in fish salads, fish cakes or soups.
Shad are especially bony, but northern pike, pickerel, carp, herring, squawfish, mooneye, buffalofish and many other fish are also born with extra sets of bones. Shad take the cake, though: They have 3,000 bones, but their meat is so tasty their Latin name is sapidissima—"tastiest."
To get started, fillet the fish as you would any other, then skin them.
Now bring to a simmer some good fish broth; you will need at least a quart. If you do not have fish broth, use chicken broth. You could use water and wine, or any sort of a poaching liquid—the point is to add flavor.Continue to 2 of 6 below.
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Simmering the Fish
Once the broth is at a simmer, add the fish fillets. Do not let it boil, a bare simmer—where the surface is shimmying, not rolling—is what you want. How long? 5 to 10 minutes, depending on how thick the fish is: Give it 10 minutes per inch.Continue to 3 of 6 below.
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Let the Fish Cool
Once the fish is cooked, set it aside to cool. This helps firm up the meat and it makes picking easier.Continue to 4 of 6 below.
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Picking the Meat From the Bones
Once the fish is cool, pick the meat from the bones. This is best done by picking towards the back of the fillet. The bones tend to face toward the fish's tail, so if you pick with the grain, you can lift out big chunks of boneless meat.
A word about the centerline. The centerline of a bony fish is often loaded with lots of teeny bones, sticking right into the fishiest-tasting part of the fillet. My advice is to toss this section.Continue to 5 of 6 below.
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The End Result
Picking meat from the bones of a fish like a shad takes time. But the end result is a bowl of delicious meat ready for further cooking. We are especially fond of fish cakes made with bony fish, but fish salads are also excellent.Continue to 6 of 6 below.
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A Word of Caution
Just a word to the wise: No matter how good you are, you will miss a few bones. Know this and deal with it accordingly; this is why we run my fish cakes through a food processor when we make them with shad or pike.
Lest you think this is all too much work, know that almost every bony fish in the world is actually under-fished, so going the extra mile is a way to eat delicious, healthy fish in a sustainable way.