Nantucket Bay Scallops in season: How to buy, clean and cook

Nantucket Bay Scallops whose harvest season is very short, November 1st through March. But fear not as right now you can find them in local restaurants and fish mongers.

Nantucket Bay Scallops at Seasons 52

WASHINGTON, December 19, 2016 – Foodies know the rules for seafood – oysters in months with R, Copper River Salmon late-May to mid-July, Florida’s Stone Crab Claws from fall (October) to Spring (May).

But don’t forget Nantucket Bay Scallops whose harvest season is very short, November 1st through March. But fear not as right now you can find them at Seasons 52 and McCormick & Schmick’s or purchase by the pound (avg. $31 per pound) at Whole Foods and other fine fish mongers.

But it’s important to know the difference between Nantucket Bay Scallops and others and to be able to tell when they are fresh, not previously frozen.  There are three primary types of scallops:

  • Sea scallops are relatively large, often as many as 1½”-2″ in diameter, and are often presented in beautifully seared platings of two or three.
  • Bay scallops are much smaller, although some aficionados find them to be sweeter than sea scallops.  Because of their small size, bay scallops are not the ideal scallop for searing but are wonderful in stir-fries and even cooked as scampi to be served as a light pasta sauce.
  • Calico scallops are harvested off of the US Gulf and Southern Atlantic coasts.  Unlike sea and bay scallops, their shells are tightly closed, and they must be steamed open before further preparation.  Although similar in shape, size and color to bay scallops, they are less sweet than their Northern cousins.

It is important to know how your scallops are harvested before you buy. Scallops are gathered either by dragging a net across the ocean floor which is bad for the sea environment as it scrapes the ocean floor clean, taking everything including other animals, and is not sustainable as it does not identify between mature and immature scallops.

The more sustainable, and expensive, method of harvesting is by hand and requires that divers go down and choose mature scallops, leaving behind immature scallops as well as leaving the ocean floor alone.  One significant benefit to diver harvesting is that as the ocean floor is not disturbed by the divers, diver scallops are usually less gritty than those harvested by bottom trawls.

Nantucket Bay Scallops are a delicacy due to their texture and sweetness and to the fact that that they are in short supply this year following a cold 2014-2015 winter that led to the main fishing areas in Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard closing to protect the juvenile “seed” scallops that were threatened by the colder seas.

Things to know about Nantucket Bay Scallops:

1.       Nantucket Bay scallops are smaller than sea scallops and have a sweet, mild taste that is unequaled anywhere. They are especially sought after due to their ability to caramelize beautifully when put to heat.

2.       Bay Scallops use inshore eelgrass as both a nursery and cover from predators and hard surf. With eelgrass throughout, the cool waters of Nantucket Sound – about 30 miles from Cape Cod – are the perfect habit for bay scallops.

3.       Commercial harvest season runs from  November 1st through March. But those local Nantucketers can enjoy the first harvest in October; for food travelers it’s worth the trip!

4.       Fishing for bay scallops can be restrictive: fishermen are forbidden from harvesting on weekends and if the air temperature is lower than 28°F before 10 am. When the water is warmer than the air, scallops will die immediately once dredged.

A search for the scallops does show them available at local restaurants including the aforementioned Seasons 52 and McCormick & Schmick’s.  Working with The Nantucket Bay Scallop Trading Company,  a fourth generation family of bay fishermen Seasons 52 is serving the scallops on the menu from now until they run out.

What’s Fresh When courtesy of McCormick & Schmicks Steak and Seafood suggests that if you purchase scallops to make at home, purchase only from a fish monger that you trust and look for scallops that are a uniform pearly white color with firm, slightly moist flesh.

The scallops should not be completely dry or dripping with moisture. If over moist, it may mean that they have been treated with STP, an additive that while not necessarily bad as it does help to preserve the fragile flesh, the STP does add to the scallops weight.

Your more flavorful scallop is categorized as a “dry” scallop meaning that it was hand harvested and immediately transported – not frozen or treated with a preservative. Don’t spend your money on scallops that look mangled or shredded. This shows mishandling and can also sometimes indicate an unfresh scallop. The scallops should be white and fresh smelling, not translucent or with a fishy smell.

The easiest way to cook scallops is to rinse in ice cold water and, if present, remove any connective tissue (it will look like a small tab attached to the scallop) which should simply pull away from a fresh scallop. Place the scallops on a paper towel and pat dry.

There are many ways to cook scallops, but the best ways are the most simple.  You can poach scallops in a broth or our favorite preparation is to simply pan sear in brown butter that is made by cooking the butter a little past the melting point which will brown the milk solids creating a wonderfully nutty aroma. Add thinly shaved fresh garlic and a squeeze of a fresh lemon juice.  When hot, but not bubbling, add the scallops watching carefully and turning carefully so as to not damage.

Caramelize the scallops, dusting them slightly with a sprinkle of lemon zest, sea salt and a small amount of white pepper, just before they begin to turn a darker brown.

Salting before the scallops begin to caramelize (crust) can cause them to dry out and remove their sweetness. The salt should not change the flavor of the scallop, instead, it should be an enhancement to the scallops flavor, so let that caramelization process begin before you add your salt. Serve with angel hair pasta or a fresh farm cheese ravioli and a simple arugula salad with a drizzle of quality olive oil and fresh lemon juice as dressing.

Bon Appetite!


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