Off the fork: Respect the scallop

CHARITY ROBEY PHOTO | A glorious dinner is served, thanks to a gift of scallops on opening day.

Monday, November 11  was the first day to take scallops in Shelter Island town waters.

There was a time when scallops were so numerous, they piled up on Island beaches when a strong wind blew across Peconic Bay. Although their numbers have dwindled, it is still possible to forage for the occasional beach scallop. Near the Shelter Island Yacht Club last weekend, I heard a low crack and saw a scallop lying on the road about 10 feet away. A gull had dropped it on the pavement, and upon examination, I could see the scallop inside the partially-cracked shell.

There is a strict code in fishing: if you shuck the scallop, it’s yours. This one belonged to the seagull.

The Peconic Bay scallop is a kind of miracle. Found in the shallow bays and inlets around Shelter Island, they live only two years and can only be legally caught after at least a year of growth. They are less than half the size of the sea scallops that are generally frozen and available at any seafood shop at half the price of bay scallops. Peconic Bay scallops are one of the few foods found on the East End of Long Island to be included in the Slow Food “Ark of Taste,” a living catalog of delicious and distinctive foods facing extinction.

With a resumé like that, I don’t know whether to cook them or revere them.

This recipe calls for a very light coating of flour and cornmeal, that makes the scallops brown nicely, but does not encase them in breading.

Seared Bay Scallops with Garlic
Serves 2 to 4.
Cooking time: 15 minutes

1 1/2 pounds Peconic Bay scallops
4 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon corn meal
2 or 3 grinds of pepper
2 to 4 tablespoons olive oil
4 pods of garlic, crushed and coarsely chopped.
2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
1/2 cup white wine

1. Put the scallops in a strainer and rinse them very briefly.  Blot them dry with a paper towel. Never soak scallops in water, since they will quickly absorb the water, diluting their taste, and making it very hard to brown them.
2. Mix the flour and cornmeal together with the pepper and sprinkle the mixture over the scallops in the strainer. As you gently shake and roll the scallops in the strainer, continue to add the flour mixture until all the scallops are barely coated and the excess flour has sifted through the strainer.
3. Warm 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat and add the garlic. Cook the garlic until it is soft and fragrant and then set it aside.
4. Turn the heat up, add another tablespoon of olive oil and when a scallop placed in the pan sizzles, add the rest of the scallops in a single layer. If necessary, cook the scallops in two batches to avoid crowding the pan. When the scallops are nicely browned on one side, turn them with a spatula, or give the skillet a good shake to roll them over.  Cook for another minute and then remove them to a platter.
5. Put the garlic back into the skillet, add the wine and parsley and cook over high heat until the wine reduces to a syrupy sauce and pour over the scallops.