I grew up on the seacoast of New Hampshire, and have been eating scallops all my life. My father and I share a love of scallops large and small. Whenever he visits in summer, we go first to Nancy’s Snack Bar and eat them deep-fried, with crispy onion rings on the side.
It wasn’t until I moved to Martha’s Vineyard full-time in the ’90s that I learned how especially revered were the baby bay scallops, and why. And of course, how to cook them.
In 1994, just after my son was born, I decided it was time to completely redo my kitchen. My logic was sound, or so I thought at the time: Might as well get it done while I personally was satisfying most of his nutritional needs — no kitchen needed. And I was too busy to cook anyway.
What does this have to do with scallops? Well, it’s how I met Mark Landers, who became our personal “Eldin” (the character on Murphy Brown who is installed in the household, fixing things up and dispensing advice).
Mark was usually puttering around as I was working at home with my son. He went on to fix lots of things in our 120-year-old house during my son’s first year, and in addition to a kitchen, and new windows, he’d gently offer tips on how to calm a screaming infant. (Put a tray of water in front of a sunny window, and watch the baby delight in the dancing light on the ceiling. It worked.)
One day, Mark showed up with some bay scallops. “Just got these this morning,” he said. When I went to put them in the fridge (which at this point was in my dining room), he said, “Stop! You want to eat those before they’re refrigerated. Kathy [his wife, whom many of you might know as one of the friendly faces at Tony’s for years] just tosses them in a bit of melted butter and puts them in the broiler. That’s it.”
He told me that Vineyard kids eat scallops right out of the water, minutes after their parents have harvested them. “We call it Vineyard sushi,” he said.
In my years on the Island, I’ve cooked them Mark’s way, though not yet raw — I’d say the probability of my harvesting scallops myself is low. I missed them during my years off-Island, and since I’ve been back, given the price was recently up as high as $36 a pound, it became a treat once or twice a year.
This year, the price of Martha’s Vineyard bay scallops went way down, often as low as $12 a pound when the Net Result had a special. When that happened, I’d buy several pounds already frozen in saltwater, and store them in my freezer. (Mark Landers, you’re probably blanching right about now, but believe me: They’re still wicked good.)
I asked my friend Tina Miller what her favorite way to prepare them is. Tina’s one of the proprietors of Rosewater in Edgartown, and my go-to source when I need cooking help.
“Dry them out on a paper towel. Get them really dry,” she said. “Heat up a cast iron pan, add some canola oil — not vegetable, not olive — and some butter. Put the scallops in, and here’s the most important part: Don’t let them touch each other, and don’t turn them for at least 3 to 4 minutes. Let them caramelize. Toss them then.
“That’s it. Finish with a little lemon, and have them with some white wine.”
For good measure, I’ve been tossing a bit of the wine into the pan near the end, too. It helps get the lovely crusty scrapings off the bottom, and makes for a nice sizzle.
I have my scallops on salad or with a little bit of linguine, or, if I’m feeling really ambitious, I’ll make some risotto, with sautéed leeks, and pop the scallops on top.
When I go back up to New Hampshire to visit all my siblings and their families and my parents, I take M.V. bay scallops. Of course they have scallops in New Hampshire, but ours are the best. On Super Bowl Sunday (sorry to bring that up) at my brother’s house, I cooked them Tina’s way.
“Oh my, these are like candy,” this most discerning brother said in what may have been the second time he has ever complimented me. All my brothers and their wives now have Tina’s recipe, and I bring scallops up whenever I go.
Gather your own tips from your builder or your friend, but the message here is clear: When it comes to Martha’s Vineyard bay scallops, the simpler the better.
The Net Result is closed until mid-March, but look for bay scallops at Edgartown Seafood, and Edgartown Meat & Fish.