Just one of the perks of living in the Panhandle of Florida is the close proximity to bays where oysters and scallops are harvested. One of my favorite late summer activities is to go to Cape San Blas in the Port St. Joe area and hunt for bay scallops in St. Joseph Bay.
Hunting Bay Scallops
Bay scallops are edible saltwater clams, and are native to the northwest Atlantic from Cape Cod to the Gulf of Mexico. You may be more familiar with sea scallops rather than bay scallops, but sea scallops are found in deeper waters, are much larger and they're harvested year-round. Scallop season runs from August 16th through September 24th in St. Joe's Bay this year. You need a boat to get around the bay, and scallop hunters snorkel around and dive down to pick up the scallops as they find them. Each boat is limited to 10 gallons (two 5-gallon buckets) of whole bay scallops in the shell or if you decide to shuck on the boat, 1/2 gallon bay scallop meat which is four pints.
Scallops are primarily found in shallow areas amid seagrasses. So, you need a boat that can go in very shallow water and be sure to trim the motor so you don't damage those precious seagrasses.
I was introduced to scalloping by my neighbors and have learned some tips and tricks over the years we have gone scallop hunting. You'll need a saltwater fishing license, dive flag to display from the boat, snorkel/mask (I got one of those full face ones a few years ago and absolutely love it), gloves, mesh bag for your harvest and water shoes. There are sea urchins all over the bay, and you definitely don't want to step on one of those! Be sure to bring two 5-gallon buckets to (hopefully) hold your harvest.
Ideally you want sunny weather because when the sun shines through the water into the seagrasses, it can be easy to spot the scallops' eyes which will glisten and appear silver or blue in the sunlight. Did you know that scallops can have up to 200 tiny eyes along the edge of the mantle lining their shells?
Cleaning Bay Scallops
Once you harvest the scallops, you need to clean them. When you first open up the shell, you'll see nothing but sludge-like material, but don't be afraid - that juicy, sweet scallop muscle is in there! Here is the process of cleaning a scallop. It takes a little while to get the hang of it, but once you do, you can actually go through it pretty quickly.
Me practicing my shucking skills on our scallop harvest
In all of the years I've been scalloping, we never had trouble reaching our limits in a matter of hours, definitely no more than a half day on the boat.
I guess I was spoiled because when I went at the beginning of the season this year, we barely got two dozen each day, nowhere near our limit.
On that trip, the water temperature in the bay was 97 degrees. The entire country experienced a very hot summer this year, but that's too hot for scallops to thrive in. They have very short lifespans - just 12 to 18 months in Florida - and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission regularly interviews people on boats to gauge the abundance of scallops in the bay. On my second trip just a couple of weeks ago, I spoke with some FWC representatives who believed the hot water this summer contributed to the low amount of scallops found. In fact, one rep told me of everyone they interviewed this season, only one boat got their limit of scallops! Say what you want about climate change, but the world is getting hotter and the scallops are feeling it! Algae blooms and red tide can also negatively affect scallop populations.
With striking out on two different trips this season, for the first time ever, I was forced to buy bay scallops from a local seafood market on the Cape. I was thrilled to find they were only $10/pound! They came frozen, but they are so small they defrosted just in time to cook them up for dinner.
Cooking Bay Scallops
The best way to cook bay scallops is a quick sear in a hot pan. They are naturally sweet and tender, so you don't need to do a lot to them to dress them up. One thing to be aware of is that even if you pat the bay scallops dry with a paper towel before cooking, they will release some water as they cook. That's inevitable because there is still water trapped within the scallop. I always drain that liquid out of the pan as they cook so that the scallops actually sear rather than just steam in the liquid.
This pasta dish is one of my favorite ways to use bay scallops because it's super simple, it lets the sweetness of the scallops shine through and it's full of ingredients everyone likes: bacon, butter and spaghetti!
Brown Butter and Bacon Bay Scallop Spaghetti
Scroll down for printable version of this recipe
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
Total time: 40 minutes
1 pound bacon, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 pounds bay scallops, drained and patted dry
1 pound spaghetti
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup Panko breadcrumbs
Parmesan cheese, either shredded or peeled
Salt and pepper, to taste
1. Cook spaghetti according to package directions, and drain. Do not rinse.
2. Toss breadcrumbs with a little olive oil and toast in a small saucepan pan on medium heat. Stir and watch closely as they will burn quickly!
2. In another pan, cook bacon until crispy. Remove bacon to a paper-towel lined plate, and reserve bacon grease in the pan.
3. Season scallops with salt and pepper.
4. Cook scallops in bacon fat on medium high heat until done, about 4 minutes.
5. Add garlic to pan, along with butter. Stir until butter is browned, about 3-4 minutes.
6. Add cooked pasta and bacon to the pan, and toss everything together so pasta is completely coated in butter bacon sauce.
7. Sprinkle with toasted breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese and serve.
I've also made this dish with peels of Parmesan cheese rather than shredded. It's equally as good!
When I got home from both of my scalloping trips this year, my scallop cravings weren't quite satisfied, so I purchased these bay scallops at my local seafood market. I'm not sure where they came from, but they were much bigger than the scallops we got in the local bay. They were still nice and sweet though maybe not quite as tender as the smaller scallops.
As you already know, I typically enjoy my scallops seared over a nice bed of pasta, but this time, I wanted a healthier scallop dish. So, I combined seared scallops with mushrooms, garlic and spinach. It's a super quick and easy weeknight meal!
Seared Scallops with Mushrooms, Garlic and Spinach
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 5 minutes
Total time: 10 minutes
1 Tablespoon butter
1 pound bay scallops, drained and patted dry
1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 cups baby spinach
8 oz baby bella mushrooms, sliced
Salt and pepper to taste
1. In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Sprinkle the scallops with salt and pepper. Add the scallops and cook for 4 minutes or until they are done and cooked through. Set the scallops on a plate.
2. Add the the olive oil to the skillet and add in the mushrooms.
3. Once the mushrooms are just about done, add the garlic and the spinach and cook for another minute, just until you can smell the garlic and the spinach starts to wilt.
4. Season with salt and pepper. Add in the scallops, adjust the seasoning and serve.
Whether you hunt for scallops on your own or purchase them at your local seafood market, they are a delicious, quick protein to prepare in a variety of ways. These small bay scallops would even be great on a grill, though I would definitely use a grill basket due to their small size. You could use bigger sea scallops on the grill without a basket. Do yourself a favor and wrap them in prosciutto first!
If you don't feel confident grilling seafood, we have a class for just that! Join us for Seafood on the Grill on Saturday, September 23 at 6pm at Lincoln Square. You'll learn how to make:
- Whole Grilled Oysters with Garlic Butter and Grilled Corn and Zucchini Succotash
- Crab Stuffed Grilled Calamari with Grilled Fennel Salad and Lemon Aioli
- Teriyaki-Glazed Cedar Planked Salmon with Grilled Pineapple and Broccoli Slaw