The flavor and history of the Peconic Bay scallop

Scallop season began Nov. 6. (Credit: Krysten Massa)

Sweet and succulent, Peconic Bay scallops are a local treasure. Whether broiled, sautéed or fried, these bivalves are enjoyed with gusto throughout the harvest season — from November through the end of March. 

Method of preparation is not the only factor that influences the flavor of the Peconic Bay scallop. Culinary historian Charity Robey is shedding light on the inimitable set of environmental considerations that make the taste of the Peconic Bay scallop unique to the North Fork during the upcoming Bayman’s Bounty lecture hosted by the Oysterponds Historical Society.

Robey, a Shelter Island resident and regular contributor to northforker, will touch on aspects of her research as well as the history of scalloping on the East End during the Saturday, March 3 discussion and tasting.

We caught up with Robey to pick her brain about her findings and get her thoughts on this year’s outstanding scallop season.

Q: You initially presented your research at the 2017 Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery in England. How did you conduct your research?

A: My interest in scallops began as an eater. I started writing about them six or seven years ago because I noticed there was a lot written about oysters, but not Peconic Bay scallops. I started by talking to biologists, food scientists, baymen and chefs to learn about the flavors.

The flavor of scallops varies from region to region. What affects their taste?

A: The most surprising thing is the connection between flavor and the environment. It is possible to call it merroir [a word derived from French and coined by foodies to describe how the unique set of environmental factors and farming practices where a plant has grown influences its flavor]. The taste is impacted by everything from lifecycle to water temperature to the plankton they eat. I don’t like to compare, but when many people say Peconic Bay scallops are they best they’ve tasted it’s usually because of its sweetness. They get that sweetness from the plankton.

This year’s Peconic Bay scallop harvest produced one of the strongest yields in recent years. What’s your take on the considerable bounty?

A: Scallops usually taste best in the beginning of the season, but I had some last night and they were amazing. This season there were a lot of scallops and they were much larger than previous years. It’s positive.

Guests will have the opportunity to immerse themselves in the discussion with a tasting of Peconic Bay scallops paired with wine and hard cider following the 4 p.m. talk at the Old Point School House located at 1555 Village Lane in Orient. Call (631) 323-2480 to reserve a spot.