We wanted to know something about
scallops so we went to Co-op Seafood in Point Pleasant, NJ. A beach
community, 'Point,' as the locals call it, offers a boardwalk, wide
white beaches and our destination - this small fishery on
the dock where the fishing boats load up with ice, set out to sea and
return with fresh scallops.
With the massive ice-making machine
grinding in the background, George Johnson, a former fisherman and now
owner of Co-op Seafood, gave us a tour of the dock, the ice house, the
icy rooms where fresh fish is unloaded and readied for distribution.
"Scallops are perishable,"
George told us. "The crew that goes out for scallops shucks the
scallops while still on the open sea, just as soon as they catch them."
Shucking is done by hand, not by machine on these boats. Since we trust
in hands, we liked the idea.
At the turn of the last century,
explained George, there were no piers. The boats would edge as far into
the shoreline as they could go, then be dragged up the sand by Clydesdale
horses. The catch of the day (no specialties then) would be transferred
to horse and wagon which would go through the town, blowing a whistle
as it went, to inform the locals that a catch was available.
Times have changed. Co-op seafood
proudly follows stringent EPA regulations to ensure the freshness and
safety of all their catches. Though we carried handkerchiefs in case
we needed to cover our noses, we never used them: cleanliness and freshness
matter here and there are no smells in the storage rooms or packing
George talked of sea scallops, but
some people think bay scallops are the sweetest of all. These are found
in the coastal bays of the Northeast and are now being raised in farms.
The scallop population was nearly exterminated in the 1980's by a toxic
algae know as 'brown tide.' Serious efforts have been made to restore
these scallops, though they haven't yet returned in great numbers and
remain an expensive delicacy.
There are also calico scallops which
are fished in warmer water off the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf coasts,
as well as in Central and South America. Less sweet than the bay scallops,
there are some unscrupulous fish stores that sell them as bay scallops.
To shuck calico scallops, the shell must be steamed to loosen the muscle's
grip on the shell. They are the tiniest of the scallops, and it is difficult
to keep them tender.
George's advice to us regarding
cooking scallops was to never overcook them, and to be sure that they
are well dried before cooking, so the surface sears, rather than steams.
Scallops are muscles and will toughen with overcooking. Look for scallops with a moist surface and a sweet, fresh smell and do what we did - go to a fishery and sniff before buying. Try to get scallops that are labeled "dry." This means they haven't been treated with the preservative sodium tripolyphosphate. They are much more flavorful, better for you, and they seem to brown a little better. Frozen scallops generally are of a good quality and available year-round.