Contributor: Caroline Coker
Living in ‘The Sunshine State’ all of my life, I have been known to go scalloping a time or two. It is the quintessential summertime experience, and very much like going on an under water Easter egg hunt, yet in the clearest water you will find on the Gulf Coast. With snorkel gear in tow (fins, mask, snorkel, small mesh bag, glove and diver down flag), recreational divers like me tend to head to Port St. Joe or Cape San Blas in the Florida Panhandle to designated harvest areas during scallop season, which runs July 1 through mid- September. The scallops are often found in the sea grass, are easy to spot and grab at depths of about 4 to 6 feet, and the limit is 2 gallons in the shell per person, per day. Bringing your own boat is great, but just make sure you have a current Florida saltwater fishing license for scalloping, plus a diver down flag. No boat, no problem, as there are many local boat captains that will take you out on a half-day trip, will provide the gear you need, and the license as well, but just make sure to ask ahead for planning purposes. Guided kayak excursions are also available, but if going alone, plan to keep your catch on ice. When ready to open the scallop, make sure you have a good sharp scallop knife. Lay the unopened scallop down on its flat side, press the knife inside the shell, slicing it all the way to the back, and pop it open to reveal the scallop meat. Scoop the scallop out of the shell with the knife or a spoon, wash it with cold water, and keep the scallops in a ziplock bag in an iced cooler until they can be refrigerated at home before cooking. My recipe for St. Joseph’s Scallops with Tomato & Fennel over Skinny Spaghetti is a healthier alternative to using heavier creamed sauces or cheeses that mask the sweet flavor of the fresh bay scallop, and is so delicious.
St. Joseph’s Bay Scallops with Tomato & Fennel over Skinny Spaghetti
8 ounces whole-wheat thin spaghetti (or I like to make fresh)
1 32-ounce container organic low sodium chicken stock (may use water or seafood stock)
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 medium fennel bulb, halved, very thinly sliced (can use mandolin)
2 shallots thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound fresh bay scallops
1 6-ounce container cherry tomatoes, halved (summer or heirloom even better if available)
2 tablespoons Pernod
4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, divided
1 lemon, cut into 4 wedges
Cook pasta in a heavy bottom large pot of low boiling salted water or low sodium chicken or seafood stock until just tender but still firm to bite (al dente), stirring occasionally. Drain the pasta reserving 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking liquid. I used the 32-ounce container of organic low sodium chicken stock and a little water, enough to cover the spaghetti.
In heavy large skillet over medium-high heat, add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add sliced fennel, garlic and shallots; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Sauté until wilted but crisp-tender, about 4-5 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer to medium bowl.
Add remaining 2 tablespoons of oil to skillet. Add scallops and sauté until just opaque in center, stirring occasionally, about 2 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer to bowl with fennel-onion mixture. Add tomatoes to skillet and sauté until heated through, about 2 minutes. Return vegetable mixture and scallops to skillet. Mix in Pernod.
Add drained pasta to skillet; toss to coat, adding reserved cooking liquid by 1/4 cupful only as needed if dry. Stir in 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley. Transfer to large shallow bowl, sprinkle with remaining 1 tablespoon chopped parsley, and serve family style with lemon wedges. The flavor combinations make for a memorable meal that everyone in the family is sure to love, unless they have a shellfish allergy of course!
Tip: You may want to wear neoprene shoes when scalloping to protect your feet, though not necessary.
Note: A bay scallop is much smaller than a sea scallop, and it may take over 50 in the shell just to make a pound, enough to create a meal for 4 adults.
Nutrition Facts: Bay scallops are very low in fat, calories and carbohydrates, and are very high in vitamin B12 which is needed by the body to convert homocysteine, a chemical that can directly damage blood vessel walls. Since high levels of homocysteine are associated with an increased risk for atherosclerosis, diabetic heart disease, heart attack, and stroke, it’s a good idea to eat a diet that contains plenty of vitamin B12 to help keep homocysteine levels low.
Contributor Caroline Coker was raised on 30A, and has been living in South Walton, Florida since the age of five. She is passionate about health and fitness, and graduated in Nutritional Science from The University of Alabama. You will find more of her work here at 30AEats.com on Beach Eats. Caroline also handles the social media for our sister site, GulfCoastRestaurants.com.