As a chef on the North Fork I have cooked Peconic Bay scallops in many ways, going all the way back to 1973, when I opened Ross’ North Fork Restaurant. (Back then we had a sandwich sign in front of the restaurant that advertised a Peconic Bay scallop dinner for $4.95). The season for scallops went from September to March, but has been shortened in recent years to November to March. This allows the scallops to spawn and grow to maturity. I only cook fresh scallops when they are in season. When you freeze and thaw them, they are still pretty good but their structure breaks down, they lose moisture and they don’t caramelize when sautéed.
The Peconic Bay scallop is not just another local shellfish. It is much more than that. A cuisine may be defined according to Webster as “The ingredients, seasonings, cooking procedures and style attributed to a particular group of people.” In those far-gone days of the 1970s we offered our scallops either broiled, sautéed or fried. Today, creative chefs have come to the North Fork and have found new ways to cook and present these treasures and to feature our bounty of fruits, vegetables, poultry, meat and seafood on their menus. And they have done it in a way that preserves our unique heritage and culture. The Peconic Bay scallop is one of the most important elements in the emergence of a true North Fork cuisine.
What is the best way to cook scallops? Sautéed in butter at high heat for a very short time with a little citrus added at the end is always good, but here are a few recipes that I have enjoyed over the years:
Sautéed with Potato Gnocchi
Boil 1 1/2 pounds of Yukon gold potatoes in their skins until tender. Peel off the skins and cut into chunks, then force through a potato ricer (or mash by hand).
Place the potatoes in a bowl along with 1 beaten egg, 1 cup flour, 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon white pepper and 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg. Mix together with a spatula, then form into a dough with your hands.
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead into a smooth ball. Let it rest for 10 minutes, then cut it into 6 pieces.
Using your hands, roll each piece into a rope about 1 inch thick. Cut these into 1-inch pieces and, holding a dinner fork in one hand, roll each gnocchi over the back of the fork, pressing a small hole in the center as you roll.
Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil and cook the gnocchi until they float, about 5 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside on a foil-lined sheet pan.
At service time, heat a large sauté pan and add 2 tablespoons butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add 1 pound of scallops in batches and cook at high heat just until lightly browned, about 3 minutes.
Remove the scallops and add the gnocchi to the hot pan, also in batches, adding more butter if necessary. Reduce the heat and add 1 cup heavy cream and 1 tablespoon lemon juice.
Add back the scallops along with 1/4 cup chopped parsley and salt and pepper to taste. Serve in shallow soup plates.
Scallops à la Vodka with Orecchiette
Place 1 pound of scallops in a bowl with 2 teaspoons mashed garlic, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.
Peel and dice 1 butternut squash into half-inch cubes.
Chop 1 cup shallots.
Heat a large sauté pan and brown the scallops at high heat in batches. Do not overcook.
Remove the scallops, lower the heat and add 2 tablespoons butter. Add the butternut squash and 1 tablespoon chopped sage. Cover and cook until the squash is tender, about 10 minutes. Remove and set aside.
Add another tablespoon of butter to the pan and the chopped shallots. Sauté at low heat until soft and add 1 cup vodka. Turn up the heat and boil until reduced by half.
Lower the heat and add 1 cup heavy cream. Add back the butternut squash and the scallops. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil and add 1 pound of orecchiette pasta. Cook until al dente and combine with the scallops mixture.
Butter-Poached Scallops with Fennel and Avocado
Melt 1/2 pound of unsalted butter in a shallow saucepan. Heat to a simmer and add 1 pound of scallops. Add the juice and zest of 1 lime and cook until the scallops turn opaque, about 4 minutes. Remove the scallops and set aside.
Trim the bulb of 1 bunch of fennel and cut into quarter-inch dice. Add this to the saucepan and cook at medium heat until tender, about 5 minutes.
Cut 1 ripe avocado in half and remove the seed. Cut the flesh into wedges and remove from the skin.
Add the avocado to the saucepan along with the scallops, 1/4 cup chopped cilantro and the juice of 1 lime. Season with 1 teaspoon of kosher salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Serve over jasmine rice.