West Basin in Aquinnah is abuzz at 6:30 am, Monday through Friday, a sea of orange and yellow foul-weather gear. Aside from loading their boats and getting ready for a cold morning on the pond, these early mornings are also a time for socializing among the scallopers of Aquinnah.
“We don’t have a local coffee shop or anything like that up here,” says long-time scalloper Todd Bassett. “I see people down here in the mornings that I haven’t seen in two years.”
Mr. Bassett got his start in the scalloping business at age 12 years. “Kids would go to the fish markets after school to shuck. We made 10 cents a pound, and if we walked out of there with 90 cents, we were very excited.”
The price of scallops may have increased since then, but otherwise Mr. Bassett says his craft has pretty much stayed the same. “Scalloping is scalloping, not much has changed,” he says.
Ona Ignacio, of Aquinnah, started scalloping last year with a cousin and aunt. “For me it’s a part of my family’s tradition,” Ms. Ignacio says. “We have been doing it for a long time. The first day I was out there I was grinning ear-to-ear. I couldn’t stop thinking about my grandmother and great aunt who had an all-women boat in their day.”
When it comes to preparing scallops, there are options. A quick sear in a very hot pan seems to produce the most consistently delicious scallops but they can also be fried, baked, broiled, grilled, etc. They work well with pasta or in chowders and casseroles. They can be sliced thin, marinated in citrus and served as ceviche. I think you’re catching my drift: the mild sweet flavor of the Vineyard’s bay scallops is versatile, and easy to pair with a range of other ingredients. Try them with bacon and chopped jalapenos, or on a green salad with pomegranate seeds.
Whichever method you choose, be mindful of two very important things when preparing your scallops: Don’t soak them in fresh water and don’t overcook them. If you think your scallops need a rinse, use only salt water and when cooking lean toward slightly undercooking and let them rest before serving. Because of their petite size, bay scallops toughen and take on a rubbery texture very easily.
While enjoying your delicious, non-rubbery scallops, you can congratulate yourself on eating something good for you too. Scallops are an excellent source of protein, potassium, and magnesium and are high in Vitamin B12 and omega-3 fatty acids.
Spicy scallops and pasta
1 lb. bay scallops
1 lb. linguini
2 large sweet onions
2 cups heavy cream
1 tbs. light brown sugar
1 tbs. black pepper
4 teaspoons crushed red pepper
1 tbs. sea salt
1. Dice onions and caramelize in enough olive oil to coat the pan with brown sugar, black and red pepper. Bring the onions just shy of burning, this will take about 30 minutes.
2. Cook pasta al dente.
3. Sear scallops (5 minutes maximum) on high heat with olive oil and butter.
4. Toss onions, pasta, and scallops together.
5. Add heavy cream until coated but not submerged.
6. Garnish with parmesan and fresh parsley.