by Jeffrey Embleton
Fresh is hard to come by in the winter months. Even with warmer-than-average temperatures, fresh produce is still a couple months away. Seafood, on the other hand, is fresh as can be – at least the seafood caught by local fishermen that you’ll find at farmers markets throughout Brooklyn each week.
The Peconic Bay Scallops that were on ice at the Cortelyou Greenmarket last week were pulled in that same morning from the pre-dawn Long Island waters. A “fresh never frozen” motto adorns the Seatuck Fish Company tent, where I spoke with Christine Edington, who was running the market for the owner (and her brother-in-law) Rob Williams.
As people approached asking for things like salmon, sole and tilapia, Christina was quick to point out that the fishermen at the Greenmarkets offer only seafood that is seasonal and locally caught. She spoke affectionately about the Peconic Bay Scallops, which are nearing the end of their season. The peak season for these scallops is from November 1st through March 31st.
As the booth got busier, Christina put Rob on the phone to talk more about the scallops. Rob is a self-proclaimed die hard fisherman. His family started fishing local waters in the 1880s, and the livelihood has been passed down through the generations, with his son now learning the ropes. Rob said the first week of the season in November, when the scallop season opened on Peconic Bay, was a hectic and crowded one, with more than 100 boats on the water, taking in hundreds of bushels. By the fourth day there were only about six boats on the waters he likes to troll. Throughout the winter, Rob said, he tends to pulls in a couple of bushels a day.
Rob has been operating Seatuck Fish Company since 1984, fishing from a variety of boats. He’s on the water seven days a week. The crew from the Cooking Channel show “Hook, Line and Dinner” recently spent the day with Rob on his boat. He said the experience was pretty cool, having a camera boat following him around as he went about his daily business. The show is scheduled to air this Spring.
Rob has a simple recipe he likes to use for the Peconic Bay Scallops: bread and fry. He especially likes them at the beginning of the season when they coincide with the harvest of Brussel sprouts.
Christina says her brother-in-law likes to fry everything. Her recipe is a touch more complex. She brings a few tablespoons of butter, a healthy splash of white wine, and the juice from half a lemon to a simmer. She then tosses in the scallops — the smaller scallops are ready in 2-3 minutes, the larger ones about five. She likes to eat them on their own, or alongside a pasta dish.
Chef Tom Kearney from The Farm on Adderley occasionally features local bay scallops on the menu. One of Tom’s favorite recipes combined caramelized bay scallops, Jerusalem artichoke confit, and smoked apple. To start, he cooks the Jerusalem artichokes with herbs, in a covered pot with grapeseed or canola oil at a slow simmer until they’re fork tender and toothpick clean (about an hour).
To smoke the apple, he cores dices it into ¼” pieces, lines the bottom of a pot with foil, places applewood chips in the pot and places the diced apples above in a vegetable steamer. He cranks up the heat until smoke develops, then immediately covers the pot and turns off the heat, allowing the apple to sit for 10-15 minutes. Once smoked, he places apples in a casserole dish, tosses with olive oil, and heats it in an oven at 375F for 10-15 minutes.
Lastly, he seasons the bay scallops with salt and pepper, and heats a lightly-oiled sautee pan until it’s just smoking. He then places the scallops in the pan, making sure not to overcrowd them, and turns them with a fork when they begin to develop a caramelized crust. The whole scallop process takes no more than a minute or two. To plate, he starts with the warm artichokes, then tops them with the scallops, and garnishes the dish with the smoked apples.
Tom says the “earthy character of sunchokes and the musky, sweetness of bay scallops play well together.” Whatever your skill level in the kitchen, you should be able to find a way to enjoy the Peconic Bay Scallop while it’s still in season. Get ‘em while you can!