There are two ways to harvest bay scallops: hauling a scallop drag or dip netting. There is, in my estimation, only one way to eat freshly shucked scallops: dipped in Panko bread crumbs and deep fried in hot oil.
The crunch of the bread crumbs complements the sweet juiciness and firm texture of the bay scallop, which has a flavor unique to our waters — a flavor unmatched by sea scallops, their bulkier, chewier cousins, or the look-alike southern calico scallop, which has all the appeal of a fried eraser.
Compared to the Vineyard’s many highly publicized attractions, the bay scallop is one of our relatively unsung treasures. That may owe to the fact that scallop season does not begin until late October, when the Vineyard takes on a less glamorous auradevoid of the summer spotlight. That suits Island scallopers just fine. Even the most generous among us is apt not to share a prime scallop hole.
Scallops do not come easy, even in those years when they are abundant. It is physical work not matter how you cut it. Sore backs and arms are part of the harvest.
At one time, I scalloped using a drag hauled behind my 18-foot Tashmoo center console. I always made sure to invite my friend Tom Robinson along. Tom was good company, but better yet, he could be relied upon to haul the drag up to the side of the boat where we would struggle to hoist it to our culling board and expectantly dump its contents — a combination of stones, dirt, weeds, an occasional broken bottle, a wriggling tiny fish, a crab or two, and, depending on our fortunes, a good haul of legal sized scallops.
I discovered the joy of dip-netting a few years ago. It is low-tech harvesting. A pair of waders made for duck hunters designed for those who must navigate cold water, a peep sight for spotting scallops on the bottom and a long-handled scallop net and a floating bushel basket is all that is needed.
On Saturday, with the wind howling out of the northeast generating white caps on Lagoon Pond I starred in the scalloping version of Deadliest Catch. A wave broke against my peep sight and splashed into my face. I persevered with my reward in mind, that night’s dinner.
When I arrived home I dumped my bushel of scallops into the kitchen sink where they clicked and clacked, a jumble of live castanets. Then the real work began — shucking, an art form in itself.
The scallop knife needs to follow the roof of the shell or you risk slicing away the precious meat you have worked so hard to harvest. Bring the knife around the shell to pull off the guts and reveal the white, pulsing muscle. Again, a deft touch is needed to avoid ripping the muscle. One undercut, a flip and you are one scallop closer to what often seems the endless task of shucking a bushel.
Flour, egg wash, panko bread crumbs. It is my mantra. I wait until the oil just hits 325 degrees. In they go, out they come golden brown.
It is time I think that Martha’s Vineyard declare opening day of the scallop season a gastronomical holiday.