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Fresh “Nantucket” Scallops
By Charlie Burke

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We once toured Nova Scotia and Cape Breton in October and in Annapolis Royale
ate dinner at my favorite kind of restaurant. They served impeccably fresh local
seafood prepared simply without heavy or creamy sauces which all too often
obliterate delicate flavors in seafood dishes. Handwritten signs taped to the
windows announcing the arrival of Digby scallops reminded me similar signs I’d
seen in Seattle restaurants when the first Copper River salmon of the season
arrived. We were assured these tiny scallops were the most tender and sweet in
the world and cooked so quickly that they were placed raw into preheated terra
cotta dishes and cooked as they were brought to the table! (In Nantucket, it’s said
that nearly as many are eaten raw as get to shore.) Served in only a small amount
of butter and chopped garlic, they were, indeed, the sweetest and best scallops I’d
ever had.

Fortunately, in New England, what appear to me to be the same scallops are
available in late fall and early winter. They must be available in other New
England waters, but these tiny bay scallops are most famously gathered on and
around Nantucket. They are so prized that residents of Nantucket have their own
season to gather them for themselves before they can be harvested commercially.
They are pricey, but worth it, and are totally different from fresh bay scallops
available at other times of the year. They are the only small scallops I cook and
are more sweet and tender than fresh dry packed sea scallops which otherwise set
the standard. I’ve found no reason to stray from the quick and simple preparation
used in Annapolis Royale, however the Nantucket scallops can be slightly larger
so they may need a minute’s cooking over a burner to get them to just opaque.

Last week I was able to buy two pounds on the very first day they were in the fish
market. I was cooking a birthday dinner for friends, and these sweet cold water
scallops, paired with carrots simmered with cumin seeds in orange sauce and
haricots verts, made for a memorable meal.

Four servings:

2 pounds fresh Nantucket scallops, with small fibrous tissue removed
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
2 tablespoons finely chopped shallot
1/3 cup dry white wine
½ teaspoon sea or kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Peel the small white fibrous hinge from the scallops and remove any pieces of
shell, but do not rinse the scallops.

Preheat oven to 550 degrees or to highest setting. Use individual terra cotta
casseroles or a single larger one, or any heavy shallow oven proof casserole, and,
once oven is hot, heat for 10 minutes. Divide all ingredients except scallops into
individual casseroles or place them into the larger size. Return to oven for 4-5
minutes until butter is melted, liquid is boiling and shallots are softened. Remove
from oven and add scallops, stirring to ensure even cooking. They are done when
barely opaque. If necessary, place casserole over medium high heat to complete
cooking, but do not overcook. Sever immediately individually in casseroles or on
warm plates with butter sauce poured over scallops. Serve immediately.

These special seasonal scallops are a true New England treasure and are well
worth their premium price. They must, of course, be perfectly fresh and, like
lobster and oysters, should be served with minimal saucing so their spectacular
sweet flavor is not masked.

I contacted Peter Oldack, owner of
Jewell Town Vineyard in South Hampton,
New Hampshire regarding a wine pairing for this special dish. He makes truly
fine wines, which have been discovered by individuals and restaurants and are in
great demand. He suggested their Cayuga White, and off-dry, crisp white with
hints of tropical fruit and melon. I have enjoyed this wine in the past and agree, so
make this pairing for a special New England meal!

About the author:

An organic farmer and avid cook, writer Charlie Burke is the vice president of the New
Hampshire Farmer's Market Association, president of the NH Farm to Restaurant
Connection and helps run the Sanbornton (NH) Farmers' Market.  Along with his wife,
Joanne, Charlie grows certified organic herbs, greens and berries at Weather Hill Farm in
Sanbornton, NH.  
The Heart of New England
Celebrating the unique character & culture of Maine ~ New Hampshire ~ Vermont
Charlie Burke
Fresh Nantucket Scallops
©The Heart of New England online magazine
...celebrating the unique character & culture of Maine, New Hampshire & Vermont!
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