Politically inclined folk tend to eagerly anticipate the first Monday in October when the Supreme Court reconvenes after its summer recess. We local edibly inclined folk eagerly anticipate the first Monday in November when the Atlantic Bay Scallop season reconvenes. The sweet, succulent jewels of Peconic Bay are back and ready to be harvested.
Bay scallops (Argopecten irradians) can be found from Cape Cod to the Gulf of Mexico. In New York, bay scallops are found in the shallow bays and estuaries of Peconic Bay, safely nestled within large beds of eel grass. The relationship between Peconic Bay scallops and eel grass in essential. The eel grass provides protection for juvenile bay scallops. In their larval stage, they attach themselves to the blades of grass, thereby avoiding predators from below (crabs and whelks) and above (seagulls). In 1985 when a massive brown tide wiped out large beds of eel grass, the bay scallop population was virtually eliminated. Through the determined effort of many, including the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County and the Peconic Estuary Program, along with a little help from Mother Nature, both populations are starting to come back, although nowhere near the pre-brown tide levels. In 1982 commercial baymen harvested 500,000 pound of Peconic Bay scallops, valued at $1.8 million. In those days, beachcombers could harvest hundreds of scallops during a low tide walk along the beach. Last year’s harvest was spotty, at best. The season, which is officially five months long, was more or less over in three days. This year, thanks to a cold winter and a cool summer, promises to be much better and reports from local baymen and fish markets are positive. Usually consumed with a panicked fervor (enjoy them today, as they might not be available again for another year … or more) a bountiful bumper crop of bay scallops should yield lower per-pound prices and keep these precious morsels around for a while. Dare I think until the December holidays?
The tender and super-sweet abductor muscle is generally the only part of this bivalve that is consumed, although the entire scallop is edible. Peconic Bay scallops have a mild delicate flavor and are best prepared with a less-is-more approach. Treat them with the respect their treasured scarcity deserves. Never, ever overcook them or you will end up with chewy little bullets. Lightly sauteed in brown butter with a splash of lemon has been my favorite way to prepare this seasonal delicacy. The other day I stopped into Claws Seafood Market in West Sayville and had my first-ever raw scallop. Now I am thinking that a ceviche might be the best way to showcase the ephemeral Peconic Bay scallop. If the promise of this season comes to fruition, I intend to indulge in local bay scallops every which way. Bring ‘em on!
Calling all fellow Peconic Bay scallop buffs! Do you want to get involved and do your part to help restore our local eel grass meadows and, in turn, our local bay scallop population? The South Fork Natural History Museum in Bridgehampton is hosting a benefit for the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Marine Meadows program. The 3rd Annual Save Our Seagrass Celebration on Saturday November 8, from 5-8 p.m. at the museum. There will be local beer and wine, live music, a raw bar featuring local clams and oysters and, of course, plenty of bay scallops freshly harvested from Peconic Bay.