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Scallop Harvest

January 12, 2010

October 29, 2009

Let’s get one thing straight. Cape Codders pronounce ‘scallops’ like ‘wallops’ or maybe like ‘trollops’, but never like ‘gallops’. Now that we have that bit of business covered, I’m happy to report that the delectable little treasures are making themselves available to the drag or the rake, and four days into my area’s season, there were still plenty to be had.

Opening day for bay scallops featured a double whammy of rainy conditions and a huge amount of water pushed into the estuary by the heavy Northeast winds that prevailed for many days. On the subject of rain, I once heard a salt-of-the-earth character assert, “I learned a long time ago that I ain’t made outa sugar.” I’ve recalled those words over and over again when the threat of inclement weather caused me to hesitate at the thought of outdoor chores. But rain and wind aside, even the astronomically low tide afforded by the new moon couldn’t empty all that water out, and the rough seas conspired to make wading tough, so I sadly turned my car around at the ramp and gave up on getting there first.

Returning at low tide the following day, I was met by a scene that any honest fisherman will admit feels like an uppercut to the gut. Half a dozen skiffs – some with pulleys, some without, some with two guys, some with one, but all with two drags pulling out beneath the wake – were plowing the rich fields of scallops I had been eyeing for weeks. They looked like bumper boats – everyone packed into an area of shoreline 30-feet wide and maybe 50-feet long. Boats would stop to allow skippers and crewmen to haul up the metal chain drags port and starboard and then the sorting would commence, with handfuls of rocks and seaweed tossed overboard and more handfuls of scallops dumped in their bushel baskets. There was plenty of weaving and close passing involved, and it seemed a wonder that none of the drags caught each other.

The boats were a bit of a bummer, but there were also a half-dozen waders slowly picking up scallops with rakes, although they smartly steered clear of the high-density area the boats were working. I observed the action with the baby, who enjoyed the spectacle and preferred the boats, and, though it was just a little tempting to take him into the fray and the waist-deep water in my waders, I had to bag it and hope some scallops would remain when we got our chance. The interesting thing about scallops is that they scoot like burglars, and just when you think a spot is cleaned-out, more appear. For someone who spends an inordinate amount of time with steamers and quahogs, watching a scallop shoot away is a hoot.

If it sounds like my secret spot was ‘burned’, as they say, make no mistake – there is nothing secret about the area. Even if it was my most obscure, clandestine fishing locale, I’ve learned the hard way that the Cape has no secrets, and as the peninsula narrows around the elbow of Chatham and up to the fist of Provincetown, hopes of keeping anything on the Q. T. completely evaporate. Having a good spot to yourself ends up being more a question of weather and how far you have to walk to get there, with a little bit of crowd psychology mixed in. Sometimes you luck out and find yourself the only person willing to give it a go and other times you have to share, but sweet bay scallops have the pull to get everyone in the water, including very young and very old folks.

We got our chance, I found a few, but Tony Stetzko pulled in many more, cementing my opinion that if everyone fished like him, all edible aquatic species would be extinct. He has an uncanny ability that lays to waste friendly contests – he once won my impetuously announced First Keeper (striper) contest in no less than 15 minutes, which included finding a spot, getting out of the buggy and making that cast (cue sh*t-eating grin.) No more striper contests. And no scallop contests, either. I’m satisfied to have won the prestigious Most Delicious Preparation of Super-Fresh Scallops award, and it took three nights of sweet eatin’ to get to it.

For anyone who needs a primer on opening fresh scallops, this fellow from Long Island put together a clip, but I have to admit that I open them the opposite way, as does everyone else I know. I hold the scallop with the hinge facing away from me, wiggle the knife in on the right-hand side of the hinge and sweep it across the top of the shell, right to left, cutting the meat close to the shell. After flipping the top off away from me, I tilt the shell and dump the stomach bag and coral, then cut the meat from the bottom shell. It is recommended that you eat a few meats raw right out of the shell whilst opening scallops.

If you happen to find some very fresh bay scallops, you really have to try this dish. I tried fried scallops (for shame) and pan-seared scallops before giving it a try, but this one is really worth the small effort it takes to prepare. The recipe is adapted from Parragon Publishing’s Fish and Seafood Cookbook.

Scallops in Saffron Sauce

2/3 cup dry white wine

2/3 cup of fish stock (or chicken broth)

large pinch of saffron threads

2 lbs bay scallops

3 Tbs olive oil

1 small onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

2/3 cup heavy cream

squeeze of lemon juice

salt and pepper

chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, to garnish

crusty bread, to serve

Put the wine, stock and saffron in a pan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer gently for 15 minutes.

Season scallops to taste with salt and pepper.

Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes, or until softened and lighty browned. Add the scallops and cook gently, stirring occasionally for 5 minutes, or just until they turn opaque. Beware of overcooking.

Transfer the scallops to a plate, then add the saffron liquid to the pan and bring to a boil. Boil rapidly until reduced by about half. Reduce the heat and slowly stir in the cream, then simmer gently until thickened. Return the scallops to the pan and let simmer in the sauce for just a minute or two. Add the lemon juice and serve with a garnish of parsley and some crusty bread.

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