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Volume 38 Issue 14, July 31 - Aug 6, 2008
now in our 38th season

Nantucket Gold

by Maryjane Mojer
Executive Chef, Bartlett's Ocean View Farm

It is a simple matter of fact that Nantucket Bay Scallops are the best there are; the cream of the crop, top of the heap.  There simply is no substitute.  I recently spend a couple of days in Gloucester.  The sea scallops that I had for dinner were fabulous (though not nearly as delicious as the sea scallops that Bill Blount brings to the farm).  I asked around about bays, but no one really knew or seemed interested.  Admittedly I didn’t dig too deep.  Here, October 1 is the start of family season, with commercial scalloping beginning a month later. When I was growing up, most every kid shucked after school.  Then again, many kids, after coming in late with their parents permission and the schools blessing, would leave their guns in their lockers during hunting season.  As they say, times they are a changin’.

The last year that I fished commercially, scallops and scallopers were plentiful. We would drop the first dredge at sunrise, and would often be in by nine a.m.  We mostly fished in town, surrounded by other boats, with an occasional foray to Tuckernuck.  That was about sixteen years ago.  Both scallops and scallopers are less abundant now, but still valued and essential to the island.

Seasonal cooking is at its best when Nantucket Bays are the focus. They are sweet and salty raw and perfect just out of the shell.  Scallops ceviche is beyond incredible with Nantucket Bays.  Scallops in bacon have become a ubiquitous appetizer and available frozen in most markets.  But make them again, yourself, using Nantucket Bays and an apple smoked bacon. 

My Dad’s favorite is scallop stew. The first time I made it, I gently sautéed shallots until soft and translucent, added vermouth, tomatoes, parsley, cream and finished it with a knob of unsalted butter.  It was delicious and quite beautiful, but not what Dad was looking for.

His scallop stew is simple. Place fresh bay scallops in a pan, cover with whole milk and a bit of evaporated milk.  Bring just to a simmer, pour into a bowl, add a bit of butter (salted,) garnish with sweet paprika.  Serve with Oyster crackers or, if you can find them, Pilot crackers with butter.

For Ceviche, the fresher the scallops, the better.  The scallops, while not cooked with heat, are no longer raw after macerating in a mixture of citrus juice.

Nantucket Bay Scallop Ceviche

  • One pound Nantucket Bay Scallops
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice •  1/4 cup fresh orange juice
  • 1/2 cup finely diced red onion  •  1/4 cup finely diced red pepper
  • One-quarter cup finely diced green pepper or jalapeño
  • Two TBL chopped fresh parsley  •  Two TBL chopped fresh cilantro

Toss all ingredients together, cover and refrigerate for at least two hours.

Scallops Ceviche is wonderful served over a spinach salad with a citrus vinaigrette.  Leftovers (as though there could be any!) make a great addition to a cold pasta salad, though should be eaten within a day or two at the most. The acid in the citrus will start to break down the scallops, resulting in a mealy, spongy lump.  Still delicious, but texturally just not right.

Even though you may fill your freezerin  and enjoy them in June as well as October, scallops are essentially a seasonal food.  Because of this, when you do cook them, think about the other foods that are available when they are, and think about combining those flavors.  Butternut squash, Honey Crisp apples, pears, kale, morels, chestnuts, Brussels sprouts:  all of these delicious fall flavors can be wonderful foils for the mild and distinctive taste of the scallops.

In spite of my too-fancy first scallop stew, I still like to use vermouth when I cook them.  As I’m imagining my first bay scallop meal of this year, I think it will be this:

Pan-Seared Bay Scallops with Vermouth Butter Sauce

Oven roasted sweet potato fries  •  Sautéed kale with caramelized onions

Baked apple with honey frozen yogurt

For the scallops:

In a large saute pan, melt two tablespoons unsalted butter.  When it stops bubbling, add the scallops, flat side down.  Let brown, turn over, brown on second side, remove from pan and set aside.

If you want a clean white sauce, then by all means wipe out the pan.  In my own rustic opinion, I’ll take the flavor of the fond and live with the wonderful browned speckles in the sauce.

In the same pan, pour one half cup dry vermouth.  Remember, this is an alcohol, so it may well flame.  Using a flat spatula or wooden spoon, gently scrape and loosen the bits of flavor on the pan.  Add one half cup of heavy cream, bring it to a boil, reduce it to a simmer, and cook till thickened.  Add two tablespoons fresh chopped parsley, whisk in a tablespoon of unsalted butter, add the scallops and heat through.

Oven roasted sweet potato fries:

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees

Scrub your sweet potatoes, and cut into long wedges. (feel free to peel them, but I don’t.)  Toss with a tablespoon or so of vegetable oil, salt and pepper.  Bake for about 45 minutes until crisp and soft.

Sautéed Kale:

Kale is my favorite vegetable.  It’s so very, very good for you and so delicious.  It does take a bit of work to clean, but it’s well worth the effort.  I soak mine in a sink full of cold water, snap the stem off, allowing a bit of the center rib to come off as well.  I’ll rinse it, soak it again, and rough chop it. It can very easily be wilted just like spinach; however I love to add a bit more flavor with a caramelized onion.

In a heavy bottomed pan, saute one (or three) onions in vegetable oil until soft, sweet, and browned.  Add the chopped kale, toss to coat with the oil and onions and cover, lowering the heat.  In five minutes or so, the kale will be bright green and wilted.  Just right.

Baked Apples:

While your fries are cooking, core an apple or two, and peel just a ring of apple skin from the apples “equator.”  Stuff the apple with a mixture of brown sugar, walnuts, raisins…or not.  A simple baked apple, unadorned can be pretty spectacular, too.

Whether you get your own scallops or buy them (or have a friend who shares), they should be handled with care.  Never, ever, ever submerge them in water. They are little sponges, and will become saturated and flavorless.  They do freeze well, and freezer bags that either remove the air mechanically, or the zip type that you can squeeze out are the best.  Remember to label and date each bag.  Thawing should, as with all things frozen, be done slowly in the refrigerator and not on your kitchen counter.  I like to freeze them by the pound, flat, in a zip top freezer bag.  If I forget to pull them either in the morning or the day before (which I most always do…forget that is), I will submerge them, still in the sealed bag in cool water in the sink.  They thaw pretty quickly.

Scallops that have been frozen, even if done quickly and well, tend to always have a bit more moisture in them, and you may find that they do not brown quite so well, or that you have quite a bit of liquid in the sauté pan.  I find that by letting them sit in a colander, and spreading them out on a paper towel for ten or fifteen minutes before I cook them helps with this.

The key to cooking Bay Scallops is that less is more.  They are, on their own, quite wonderful.  Anything that you would add to them should only enhance how good they already are, and not take away or overpower them. And, as always, great company is the best side dish.

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