18 Oct 2011

Nantucket Scalloping

Nantucket Scalloping

Just when I thought I had experienced all the “wow moments” this little island has to offer, I unearthed a new one. I found myself giddy as a school girl last weekend as I snagged my first scallop. There’s been some friendly buzz around the island the past few weeks as recreational scallop season kicked off. I overheard the banter in the coffee shops and the grocery store lines. “Got a full bushel in less than an hour out in Madaket.” “Pickins are slim out in Pocomo.” “It’s a little spotty off of Hulbert, but give it shot.” My curiosity got the better of me. I wanted to know what this scallop chatter was all about.

I love Nantucket bay scallops as much as the next girl (or guy), but I’d never really considered scavenging for my dinner – until recently. I decided the only way to confirm what the buzz was all about was to wade in waist deep and see for myself. Like any respectable sport or hobby, this one requires the proper equipment and attire. I welcome any excuse to shop, so I enthusiastically perused the aisles of the Brant Point Marine in search of some adorable waders and a matching rake. I’m certain I was the entertainment of the day as I pulled and prodded myself into the waders to ensure the fit. “Really, they only come in one color?” I inquired. Brown is the THE color this season the nice sales guy assured me with a grin. I couldn’t resist asking my husband Dan (who was hiding in the back room hoping no one would realize we were together) “Honey, do these waders make me look fat?” “They were made for you,” he quipped and off we went – rakes, basket and shucking knife in tow.

We took to the water, along with several dozen scallop enthusiasts, just off Hulbert Ave in Brant Point. The day was pristine, with near record high temps, the water calm, warm and brilliant azure blue. With no idea what I was doing, I studied the obvious experts in the craft bringing up heaping full baskets nearby. They took pity on the new girl and gave me some helpful tips. There were other scallop novices struggling with their rakes alongside me and together we got the hang of the “sweep, push, dig” motion. Before I knew it my basket surfaced with several of the perfectly shaped gems clinging to the netting. I felt like I struck oil in the Nantucket Sound!

I carefully studied the shells to ensure I was keeping the ones with the growth ring (I wasn’t about to get busted by the shellfish police my first time out!) I tossed back the “spat” (that’s shellfish speak for baby scallops) and proudly continued filling my basket with the keepers. I was unprepared for the sassy attitude of some of these sea creatures. As I reached my hand in to sort them several snapped and spit at me. Collectively they hissed and bounced about in the basket. I’ve never seen anything like it. My new scallop friends and I chuckled as we compared who had the most unruly catch of the day.

Our scallop skills really got put to the test when the shucking commenced. Experienced scallop friends tell us there’s a secret to removing the succulent meat from the shells. It’s safe to say, we haven’t mastered the technique yet. It took us over an hour to clean enough for dinner, but my oh my were they worth the effort. I stepped clear out of my comfort zone and popped a raw one in my mouth before tossing the rest in the frying pan. It tasted like candy. A quick sear in the skillet later and “whallah” dinner was served. I guess I’ve learned how to scavenge for supper after all.

Nantucket fun isn’t limited to the summer months. The shoulder season (spring and fall) offers unlimited opportunities to experience the island. Recreational scallop season runs from October 1 to March 31. Make plans to come spend a long weekend or extended vacation on the island. Borrow, purchase or bring your own stylish waders, push rakes and shucking knives. Join dozens of other Nantucket scalloping enthusiasts in the beautiful waters around Nantucket and dig for dinner.

Aw shucks.

Shellie Dunlap

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