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How to Cook Peconic Bay Scallops

Scallop-Shell

(Image courtesy of Myles Cavanaugh.)

When it comes to food and eating, most people associate November with Thanksgiving. I’m all for big feasts, homemade pies, and family gatherings, but the month conjures something additional for me: mouth-watering thoughts of Peconic Bay Scallops.

They are the sweetest scallops around, and their recent history is a poignant story, one of loss and return, that resonates with me these days.

Bay scallops used to be fairly commonplace. When I was a teenager and college student working at Mt. Kisco Seafood, they were almost always in the display cases come November, when their season opens, and not priced all that far off from sea scallops.

In the late eighties, a series of brown tides swept through Peconic Bay, at the eastern end of Long Island, and the scallop population crashed. Hundreds of thousands of pounds had been harvested each year in the seventies; by the start of the twenty-first century it was down to a few thousand, if that, each year.

But starting a few years ago, a number of efforts were made to restore the scallop population. According to a New York Times article from last fall, since 2002, the Nature Conservancy has released thousands of baby scallops into the bay. Also according to the article, since 2005 Suffolk County has invested $2.3 million dollars with its project to bring back the scallops.

The article goes on to report that these efforts seem to be bearing fruit. The harvest in 2008 was three times that of 2007. It’s not yet clear how abundant the scallops are this year, but there are enough now, at least, for me to buy three-quarters of a pound of them from Blue Moon Fish, at the Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket, over the weekend.

I bought the scallops with the thought of cooking them for lunch on Saturday with Santa Maria, but she needed to go to the hospital to see her mother.  I lost out on the chance to eat them with her, but I ended up with the opportunity to share them with my father-in-law, which was an unexpected treat.

It’s not everyday that I get to have lunch alone with Santa Maria’s dad, a remarkable man who relates to the world about 180-degrees the opposite of the way my father used to approach life. My father spent most of his days in a suit and tie. At home, his way of relaxing was to take the tie off, but leave the collared shirt on. One of the first times my (then future) father-in-law came to visit, he stayed overnight with us, and I’ll never forget the sight of him lying on the floor of our kitchen in his boxer shorts, carrying on a conversation. That’s how he relaxed.

He kept his pants on when he joined me Saturday for lunch, which I had to make in a hurry. A half-an-hour after getting home with the scallops, I needed to pick Pinta up from her dance class. I had just enough time to sauté them up in a pan, which is all they really need. I served his with a side of peas and some fresh bread. I tossed mine over some pasta with the peas, a bit of bacon, olive oil, and chopped parsley. I wasn’t sufficiently satisfied with that pasta dish to recommend it with a recipe, but I will share what I learned—the scallops really need nothing at all.

 

Sautéed Peconic Bay Scallops

  • Any amount Peconic Bay Scallops
  • Olive Oil

 

Dry the scallops on paper towels. Bring them to room temperature if you have the time.

Heat a cast-iron frying pan until nearly smoking.

Add a little olive oil.

Toss in the scallops, being careful not to crowd the pan.

Leave them alone for three-or four minutes, or until they get a nice crisp finish on one side.

Move them a bit in the pan with a spatula.

Remove from heat and serve.

 

Note: The scallops do not need to be cooked all the way through. Avoid overcooking them.

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