A New England treasure, they are in season right now, at this shortest day of the year!
There’s a beautiful island 30 miles off the Massachusetts coast, Nantucket, home of the world renowned wild seasonal delicacy, the bay scallop. Have you ever been there? The protected, clean waters off this island nurture the world’s oldest sustainable bay scallop fisheries, still carefully harvested and hand culled and cleaned, rinsed, and packed. No preservatives, ever, no freezing either. They are sold fresh during their short New England harvest season that runs from November to March, weather dependent.
A flavor rivaled by none
Their sweet, unique flavor and succulent texture is unlike anything else. As scallops go, they are tiny, just the size of a thimble, and they require little prep except the removal of the little muscle, sometimes called a strap because that’s what it looks like. But the few minutes you will spend prepping these is well worth the time!
There’s always a catch, so to speak
As with any special seafood, there’s a catch so to speak, they are pricey, and they are hard to find. A good seafood market in New England can usually get them in, and there are some mail order services that can deliver your scallops via FedEx if you’re willing to pay the price. My local fish monger will order them in for me, but he’s always afraid to tell me the price! I think of them as holiday food at Christmastime, so the splurge is worth it, and all fish and seafood has been pricey lately.
Alternatives, of course!
I recognize that these scallops are a regional item, but never fear! There’s always an alternative or I wouldn’t post the recipe. If you cannot find them, you can substitute any of the east coast bay scallops or those from Canadian, also wild but with not quite the same flavor. I’ve had some lovely bays from New Hampshire’s tiny coastline, as well as the beautiful waters of Cape Cod Bay. Or, you can use a wild sea scallop that you cut into quarters. It won’t be exactly the same, but it will still be delicious, just look for sea scallops that are “dry” and not sitting in preservatives.
If you find bay scallops that are a bargain, pass them by. I can tell you without a doubt they are probably from China and not worth a fraction of what you are paying. They are poorly farmed, often with questionable practices that have seen them banned from our market in the past. They are also pretty much inedible having been packed in a preservative solution, frozen, and transported around the globe. Always ask.
But the real thing is special, and I usually buy them for a seafood stew I make Christmas Eve, and I have at least one meal where they are the star of the show. They are rich; you don’t need a lot. With this recipe, a pound of the scallops will feed five or six people as long as they are not greedy! The mashed potatoes help, providing a divine base for the scallops. This time, I made the potatoes with a bit of roasted garlic, even better.
Keep It Simple Sam
You don’t want to do a lot to these scallops, or add too many things; simple is best, so it is always a fast but special meal. The promise of the return of the light is definitely something to celebrate in the north country. We had friends over for a slightly early Winter Solstice supper, and everyone was delighted. Here we did a quick sauté with some shallots, deglazed the pan with some white wine, and let everything get happy together.
Sunrise at Winter Solstice – The light returns! The solstice arrives this afternoon at 4:48 p.m., and not a minute too soon. Sunrise this morning was at 7:23 a.m, and sunset will be at 4:14 p.m., giving us a stingy 8 hours and 51 minutes of possible daylight. But in the next few days, the light returns slowly, definitely a reason to celebrate. We’ll barely notice the lengthening days for a while, but it’s happening.
I’ll choose mashed potatoes please
You can serve this over rice or pasta, but this past weekend, they starred atop a fluffy bed of buttery garlic mashed potatoes, and the result was divine. I’m making these again next year at the winter solstice, too. You’re invited!
Nantucket Bay Scallops and Shallots over Mashed Potatoes
- 1 lb. Nantucket Bay Scallops
- Flour for dusting
- 2 tbsp. olive oil
- 2 tbsp. butter or non-dairy butter
- 2 or 3 large shallots, minced
- 2/3 cup dry white wine
- Another tablespoon or two of butter
- Salt and pepper
- A handful of thawed frozen peas
- Mashed potatoes
Clean the scallops by removing the little muscle (often called straps) on the side. Pat them dry and dust them with flour. Season.
In a large, heavy skillet (not non-stick) heat over medium high and add the oil and butter. Once it is shimmering and the butter melted and no longer bubbling, add the shallots and sauté until they start to brown. This is quick work. Remove from the pan, add a bit more oil, and add the dusted scallops in a single layer, do this is two batches if need be. If you crowd the pan, they will steam and not color.
Cook for two minutes, without touching them, then turn if they are browned. Cook another two minutes, and sacrifice one for a cook’s test. It’s a hard job. If they are ready, remove to the shallot bowl, cover again to keep warm, and deglaze the pan with the wine. Don’t overcook these treasures.
Once all the glaze is scraped up, and the wine reduced by about half, add the extra butter, let it melt, and add the scallops and shallots back to the pan. Gently mix it all up, then toss in the peas.
Serve over the mashed potatoes, and call everyone to the table.
It will probably get quiet. Really quiet.
A small Cape Cod beach a few years ago. We definitely had a great shell day, including lots of bay scallop shells!
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