Atlantic Bay Scallop Season is Here
The first Monday of November is a day I always look forward to, but this hasn’t always been the case. The Atlantic bay scallop season begins on that day and over the years it has been a rollercoaster ride of harvests and availability. The lives of bay scallops in the Peconic estuary are linked directly with the presence of eelgrass beds in the area. In the 1930s, a “wasting disease” affected the eelgrass and then again, in 1985, brown tide blooms essentially destroyed the eelgrass and, therefore, the scallops.
When I first came out to the east end to cook, in 1992 at Della Femina restaurant in East Hampton, we generally had reliable harvests of bay scallops but they were never as big as those from the years before 1985. Through most of the latter 1990s, the harvests continued to dwindle and by the early 2000s there were almost no scallops coming to market. If we wanted to cook with bay scallops we were forced to buy the Nantucket scallops which, while very good, were not as tasty or as sweet as the local scallops.
In 2005, Cornell Cooperative Extension and their partners began a project to restore the eelgrass and bay scallop populations in the Peconic estuary and by 2009 we began to once again see notable harvests. Last year, during the 2014-15 scallop season, we finally noticed a sustained availability and the start of the 2015-16 season looks pretty good, too. Only time will tell how it plays out, but it is nice to have such a delicious local and seasonal resource available again.
The real beauty of these scallops is their sweet, saline flavor. They can be prepared raw, lightly pickled or cured, and fully cooked and they are delicious in all of these ways. My favorite preparations include sliced raw and served with ponzu and other Asian flavors or lightly warmed in brown butter with lemon and sage. I have seared them and served them with quickly seared foie gras and porcini mushrooms and I have also served them as a ceviche with a variety of citrus components. Versatility is another of their strengths.
If you happen to live on Long Island or in the tri-state area, you should indulge yourself this season with some bay scallops. You can prepare them at home or eat them in a restaurant. You will be glad that you did.
Copyright 2015-16 Kevin Penner