Peconic Bay Scallop Season is Here
The first Monday of November is a day I usually look forward to, but this hasn’t always been the case. The Atlantic bay scallop season in New York state 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 have always been linked directly to 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.
The beginning of the 2019 season appears to be one of the years that we would like to forget. The first day of scalloping brought with it many reports suggesting a “die-off” of some sort happened over the summer. The previous two seasons, in 2017 and 2018, saw about 108,000 pounds harvested each year. It appears that 2019 will yield a fraction of those years.
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 later 1990s, the harvests continued to dwindle and by the early 2000s, there were very few scallops coming to market.
Addressing the Problems
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. During the 2014-15 scallop season, we finally noticed a sustained availability and the 2015-16 season looked 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. My favorite preparations include sliced raw and served with ponzu and other pan-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 ceviche with a variety of citrus components. Versatility is another of their strengths.
Let’s hope that next year the Peconic Bay scallop harvest bounces back to the levels seen in 2017 and 2018. Life is more delicious with local bay scallops.
Copyright 2020 Kevin Penner