Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Fisherman Behind The Winter Candy

The realization hits that winter is finally buckling down as nature straps on her grey suit and the TV weathermen toss around frightening phrases like "winter blast" and "polar vortex."  The world is in its dormancy and outside activities have become non-existent; well, at least for some of us.  Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on whose porch you are sitting on, there is work to be done in the bleak, weather-beaten days of winter.

The short days between November and March mark the season for some of Nature's best candy: Nantucket Bay scallops.  This year BRG restaurants look to Captain Jeff Henderson of the fishing vessel Miss Alice and his small team of 15 boats to brave the bitter cold and supply us with some of the freshest, plumpest, most consistent bay scallops I have ever seen.  It's not easy getting after it predawn on days in which you can see the steam come off the ocean and your coffee freezes after only minutes of neglect but, like most Nantucket fishermen, it's a labor of pride and tradition that has been driving Captain Jeff for decades.  

The fishery can be a tricky one.  Bay scallops are harvested by fishermen in small boats using hand dredges and are landed live.  Once the open decked boats are back at the docks, the haul of live scallops is taken to a "shucking shanty" where veteran shuckers deftly open each scallop with three quick turns of the knife, the best of whom can open over a thousand in a day.  If the air temperature is lower than 28 degrees before 10 am, fishermen are not allowed to harvest due to the fact that the scallops will die immediately.  This includes the undersized juveniles, which will typically be cast back into the water in order to grow, so the rule is enforced strictly to protect the stock.  Some winters fishing ends over a month early due to the Bay freezing over completely.  Although the season ends in March, it's easy to understand why that doesn't necessarily mean that we will have Nantucket Bay scallops throughout the season.  This scarcity only increases the lust after the beautiful, delicious scallops.
Shucking Time

What separates Captain Jeff's bay scallops from the competition is the size and freshness of his catch.  His team knows the nooks and crannies of the Bay and is excellent at finding where the largest and sweetest scallops are hiding.  When working with Jeff, you know that your scallops are shucked the same day as they are shipped.  That means on one day boats are going out dredging and the next day I am unwrapping a sealed Fed-Ex box of delectable scallops that were filtering water less than 24 hours before.  Sometimes the meats come in still twitching.  Glistening with sugared sweetness, the succulent Bay scallops seem to burst out of the bag with fresh ocean aroma and it's not abnormal for our chefs to have a moment of weakness and try a few raw, right out of the box.  All in the name of quality control, of course.

It's a testament to the artisanal quality of Captain Jeff's work that his scallops are best served and appreciated eaten raw.  They do not require any intrusive sauces or clunky spices.  Save that for lesser products.  If anything, I would recommend just a bit of sea salt.  The rest, leave up to Jeff's knack for finding the best scallops in the Bay and your lucky taste buds.      


Captain Jeff after a good haul

No comments:

Post a Comment