Peconic Bay Scallops: The Shellfish of the Holiday Season

Scallopers work the bottom off Lazy Point in Naeague Bay. Dell Cullum photo

Peconic Bay scallop season is in full swing. Though for this season, supplies are delicate and scarce, according to several local baymen.

These petite little gems are always the kick-off to the holiday season, and continue to create a sense of comfort through the blustery winter months. As recognizable as the summer’s rose season, Peconic Bay scallops are the highly regarded fall and winter staple of the East End.

Bay scallop season commenced on November 5 in state waters (Shelter Island’s season officially began one week later) and lasts through March. Each scallop set varies from year to year. “Last year, Riverhead had a good set, whereas Shelter Island did not,” explains Nick Gross of Shelter Island. “The year before Shelter Island had a good set, it is a hit or miss.”

“When I started scalloping in 1995, the season was very good, but it began to decline from there. It only started to pick up within the last four to five years. It’s a competitive market. Some go out every day and it is a full day, starting at around sun up,” adds Gross.

Understandably, this is why bay scallops are so highly regarded and sought after. Their sweet succulent taste is unlike any other, and is one of the few seafood commodities that pairs beautifully with such a diverse flavor palate from sweet and savory to spicy and buttery. Chefs all across the East End revel in this time by creating a variety of scallop recipes that evolve with the season, many of which are ideal for incorporating into your holiday festivities.

“Every year, as soon as scallop season opens, there is a sensational demand for them. We have not had them fresh since April. The first batch is always the most special, and there are few foods in this day and age that have a special season,” explains Charlotte Sasso, co-owner of Stuart’s Seafood Market in Amagansett with her husband Bruce Sasso, who has several methods for creating the perfect scallop dish.

“Scallops are so versatile; you can make them bruised in a casserole dish topped with Panko bread crumbs, ceviche style, or maybe with just lemon. Do them on a plate with sautéed spinach or creamed spinach and butternut squash. Make a homemade pumpkin soup with scallops on top with snips of fresh chives. It makes a beautiful presentation,” says Sasso.

A peek inside a Peconic Bay Scallop. Dell Cullum photo

Sasso also recommends incorporating Peconic Bay scallops in The Feast of the Seven Fishes, an Italian-American Christmas tradition where you have seven different types of fish and other seafood on Christmas Eve.

These local treasures also carry many fond memories, as told by Chef Michael Rozzi of The 1770 House in East Hampton.

“Bay scalloping season is a special time of year for baymen. I remember the stories my grandfather ‘Chubby’ Rozzi would tell me about him and his brother Eddie filling the garage with scallops when the season opened. It’s a tremendous revenue stream for men who work the water,” says Rozzi.

“It begins with those who brave cold winter back bays and all the windy secret spots to bring them to our tables. Then on to those of us who proudly serve them. I love them raw. That’s how they make me happy. If you bread and flash fry them, they are an out of body experience but most purists prefer a black pan, high heat and a quick sear, being careful to not overcook with a little butter to brown, a grate of lemon zest and some sea salt.

Chef Rozzi serves them in many styles throughout the season. On The 1770 House Thanksgiving Day menu ($95, three-courses served starting at 2 p.m.) will be caramelized Peconic Bay scallops with lemon, garlic and oreganata bread crumbs.

These East End traditions also resonate with Chef Joe Realmuto of Nick & Toni’s.

“They have to be one of my favorite local items on the East End. I like them for a number of reasons, they are harvested, brought to the restaurant and usually sell out nightly so they are super fresh all the time at our restaurants. At Nick & Toni’s we might serve them in an appetizer salad simply seared in a hot pan and we make a lemon and butter emulsion in the pan and toss some arugula with the bay scallops and topped with crushed croutons to add a little crunch.”

“For an entree we might simply sear them and serve over some Kobocha squash puree with lemon and capers and some roasted Cipollini onions. They are also a hit at Rowdy Hall where we just broil them in a cassouletwith white wine, butter and toasted breadcrumbs.  The other thing I like about local bay scallops is that I am out there on opening day with my looking box harvesting them for my own personal consumption. It is a tradition with my son and friends; we get together harvest and then spend the afternoon shucking.”

Chef Realmuto also notes that scallops freeze very well, creating an ideal opportunity to share them with family and friends who visit for the holidays. “I might make them for Thanksgiving as a mid-course with some risotto and they always make it into my seafood salad for Christmas Eve.”

As Chef Stephan Bogardus of North Fork Table & Inn plates them, he opts for sweeter, earthy notes with the use of a vanilla bean and whole butter. At the finish, “the butter will melt but remain emulsified forming an amazing sauce,” says Bogardus.

Peconic Bay Scallops w/ Butter & Lemon over Garden Arugula

By Chef Joe Realmuto, Nick & Toni’s Restaurant, East Hampton

4 servings

1 lb. Peconic Bay scallops

1 Tbsp. olive oil

¼ stick butter, unsalted

Juice of 2 lemons

2 bunches arugula

Salt & pepper to taste

1 cup croutons, crushed

Clean arugula and place on a platter.

Heat a thick bottom large sauté pan over high heat.

Add oil and ½ the butter to pan and wait till starts to smoke. It is very important that the pan is hot or the scallops will stick to the pan and not brown.

Add scallops to the pan in an even layer and let sit for 1 minute. Do not touch scallops till they start to brown. Shake the pan to turn the scallops and brown on all sides. Cook for not more two minutes — it is better for the scallops to be a bit under cooked.

Add lemon juice and rest of butter, salt and pepper and swirl pan to just melt butter. Once you have this nice thick buttery lemon vinaigrette pour over the arugula and top with breadcrumbs.  Serve warm.

We also make this same dish with the addition of spaghetti.  It is made the same way but we add the arugula to the pan to slightly wilt and toss with pasta.


Local Bay Scallop Ceviche

By Chef Sam McCleland, The Bell & Anchor, Noyac

4 servings

12 oz. local bay scallops

2 cups sliced shiitakes

1/4 cup sugar

1cup water

1cup soy sauce

1/2 cup sherry vinegar

1 piece (1 inch peeled) fresh ginger

Garnish: small pinch of truffle salt per serving

1/4 tsp. fresh lemon juice

fresh black pepper

1/4 tsp, shiso leaves (chiffonade)

Combine sugar, water, soy sauce and sherry vinegar, and bring to low boil on the stove.

Remove and add the sliced shiitakes and let sit overnight in a suitable container in the refrigerator.

When ready, evenly divide the raw scallops (approx. 3oz. per serving) into individual serving bowls.

Top with 1/4. oz. liquid and 1 tablespoon sliced shiitakes

Garnish each serving.

Seared Peconic Bay Scallops with Vanilla Butter Sauce

By Stephan Bogardus, North Fork Table & Inn, Southold

2 servings

1 lb Peconic Bay scallops

1 oz. clarified butter or canola oil

1/2 vanilla bean, split length wise

2 oz. water (or your favorite white wine)

2 oz. cold whole butter

Salt, to taste

First be sure to assemble your ingredients and have everything together this one take no time at all and you will need to have your ingredients close by and ready to go.

Place your scallops on a paper towel and large dinner plate to try to dry them off a little, this will help them to caramelize thus getting nice and sweet.

Place a large thick bottomed sauté pan or cast iron over high heat. Allow the pan to get very hot, to the point when you place your hand over the pan you can feel the heat from a few inches above.

Add your canola oil or clarified butter to the pan, stir the fat around to oat the pan evenly. Lightly salt the plate of scallops and place them carefully in the pan. Make sure the scallops are distributed evenly throughout the pan and in a single layer against the pan’s surface.

Watch and wait, after a minute or two the edges of the scallops will begin to gain color, now spin the handle of the pan around the burner to more evenly distribute the heat to the scallops as they cook. Try to not distribute the scallops while rotating the pan. Sautee them for another minute or two until the pan is very hot and the scallops are visibly caramelized.

Now, shake the pan carefully to stir the scallops and get their other side to have contact with the pan’s hot surface. Add in the scraped vanilla pod and rub the browned surface with a spoon to help get the vanilla out of the pod.

Remove the pan from the heat and add your water or wine. Be careful as the pan could flare up a bit especially if you are using wine. Now place the pan back on the head and reduce the liquid in the pan by half, this should happen quickly. Now shut the heat off and add your cubed butter. Stir the butter with a spoon and shake the pan at the same time. The butter will melt but remain emulsified forming an amazing sauce.