Food Column: Bay scallops are pearls of the North Fork

In Greek mythology when Aprhrodite rose from the sea she skimmed over the Aegean waves on a scallop shell. This foam-borne goddess had a team of six seahorses to take her to the island of Cythera, and the symbol of sexual love and beauty rode in a scallop carriage. The graceful form of these shells has been reflected in art and architecture since earliest times. The scallop is the only bivalve to have a patron saint. The name “coquille Saint-Jacques,” or St. James shell, is on the one hand an umbrella term for a variety of creamy scallop dishes, but it’s also the name used for this mollusk in France.
from A.J. McClane’s
“Encyclopedia of Fish Cookery”

The Peconic Bay scallop is one of the North Fork’s finest culinary treasures. The season begins in November and ends in March. Like oysters, clams and mussels, the scallop is a bivalve mollusk. But unlike them it swims through the water by snapping its shells together with its adductor muscle. Due to this activity the adductor muscle becomes oversized and is the most sought-after part of the scallop to eat.
The whole scallop is edible when very fresh, but the viscera spoils quickly because the shells do not close tightly as do those of clams and oysters. Bay scallop shells are grooved with serrated edges, making them a beautiful serving dish for the scallop. The scallop differs from other bivalves in that it has a life span of only two years, creating the necessity to harvest them before they die. The Peconic Bay scallop has become the signature dish of the North Fork’s cuisine over the past 100 years. Here are a few recipes:

Marinated Sautéed
Bay Scallops
Place 1 pound of Peconic Bay scallops in a bowl with 1/4 cup white wine, 1 teaspoon minced garlic, 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Marinate for 1 hour in the refrigerator.
Put 2 cups of cracker meal (available at supermarkets) in a shallow pan. Remove the scallops from the marinade, pat them dry with paper towels and roll them in the cracker meal. Melt 2 tablespoons unsalted butter in a sauté pan over medium high heat and add the scallops in small batches, cooking each scallop until just browned and opaque, about 2 minutes. Add more butter as necessary. Serve over wilted greens with lemon wedges.
Serves 4.
Note: This recipe is adapted from a recipe by Jules Bond, former Suffolk Times columnist.
Bay Scallop Gratin
Soften 4 tablespoons unsalted butter in a bowl. Add 1 tablespoon minced garlic, 2 tablespoons minced shallots, 1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 1 teaspoon lemon zest, 1 tablespoon Pernod, 1 teaspoon coarse salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Stir this mixture together with a wooden spoon and fold in 1/2 cup of panko crumbs. Place 1 tablespoon white wine in each of 4 ramekins (or gratin dishes) and distribute 1 1/2 pounds of scallops between them. Spoon the butter mixture over the scallops and place in a 425-degree oven. Bake for about 10 minutes or until the crumbs begin to brown and the scallops are just turning opaque.
Serves 4.

Coquilles St. Jacques
à la Parisienne
Purchase 1 pound of Peconic Bay scallops and 6 shells. Add 1 cup white wine, 1 bay leaf, 2 tablespoons chopped shallots, 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper to a shallow saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer for 10 minutes and add the scallops and 8 ounces sliced white mushrooms. Cover, bring back to a boil, and simmer for 3 minutes. Remove scallops and mushrooms and set aside. Boil the remaining liquid until it is reduced to 1 cup.
In a separate saucepan, melt 3 tablespoons butter and stir in 1/4 cup flour to make a roux. Cook briefly and stir in the reduced cooking liquid and 1/2 cup heavy cream. Add 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. Toss the scallops and mushrooms with three-quarters of the sauce and place in the scallop shells. Spoon the remaining sauce on top and sprinkle with 1/2 cup grated Emmantaler (or Swiss) cheese. Put the filled scallop shells on a sheet pan and place under a broiler until the cheese begins to brown. Serve as a first course over a bed of baby spinach.
Serves 6.

Peconic Bay Scallop Stew
Heat 2 cups milk and 1 cup heavy cream to a simmer. Add 1 teaspoon coarse salt and 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper. Stir in 2 tablespoons unsalted butter and 1 pound of scallops. Simmer slowly for 10 minutes. Place 1 cup pilot crackers in a food processor and pulse for 10 seconds. Stir into scallop stew and serve.
Serves 4-6.

Peconic Bay Scallop Chowder
Dice 3 strips of bacon and sauté them in a saucepan. Add 1 cup chopped onion, 1/2 cup diced celery, 1 teaspoon minced garlic and 1 tablespoon fresh thyme. Cook just until vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes. Separately, set up a double boiler and place 4 cups diced, peeled raw potatoes in it along with 1 cup heavy cream, 1 cup milk, 1 bay leaf, 1 teaspoon coarse salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Add the bacon/vegetable mixture to the double boiler, cover and cook at medium heat until potatoes are fully cooked, about 55 minutes.
While this is cooking, add 2 tablespoons unsalted butter to the first saucepan and place it on medium heat. When the butter foams, add 1 pound of fresh Peconic Bay scallops and cook, covered, until just opaque and they have released their juices. Remove the scallops with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add 1 minced shallot and 1 cup white wine to the pan and turn up the heat. Boil until liquid is reduced to about 1 cup.
When the double boiler mixture is fully cooked, add it to the reduced wine sauce along with the scallops. Stir in 1/4 cup chopped parsley and check for seasoning. Remove from heat and serve.
Serves 4-6.

Kartoffel Klosse mit Muscheln (Potato Dumplings with Scallops)
Boil 4 potatoes in their skins until tender, about 25 minutes. Drain, cool slightly and peel. Place in a potato ricer over a bowl.
Peel and grate 3 raw potatoes into another bowl. Finely mince 1 shallot and add to the grated potato along with 1 teaspoon lemon juice, 1 teaspoon coarse salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper and 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg. Place this mixture into a cloth cook’s towel and squeeze out all the moisture that you can. Add this to the cooked potatoes. Stir them together and add 1 beaten egg and 1/4 cup flour. Scoop out 1/4-cup portions onto a cutting board and roll each into a ball. Make a large indentation in each dumpling with your thumb and insert 1 bay scallop. Seal the dumpling and set aside.
Bring 4 quarts salted water to a boil and add the dumplings. Let them simmer for 15 minutes. While they are cooking, melt 2 tablespoons butter in a sauté pan and add 1 cup panko crumbs, stirring until they are golden brown. Lift the dumplings out of the water and roll them in the panko crumbs. Serve the dumplings with broiled or pan-fried fish.
Serves 4-6.

John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years. E-mail: [email protected].